Wageningen University & Research: Socio-economic effects of measures to tackle nitrogen pollution

At the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV), scientists from Wageningen University & Research have mapped out the socio-economic effects of measures to tackle nitrogen pollution carried out under the Stikstofreductie en Natuurverbetering (nitrogen reduction and nature improvement) programme. They analysed the effects of the ‘source and nature recovery’ measures package in the Stikstofreductie en Natuurverbetering PSN (nitrogen reduction and nature improvement) programme, adopted by the government in 2020.

They looked at socio-economic effects in broad terms of prosperity (including labour, leisure and material property) on a national level and in terms of the feasibility and affordability of the measures.

The analysis showed the perceptions of Dutch residential and living environments are being affected positively, but that the agricultural chain has been negatively affected economically.

What measures are we talking about?
A total of 23 measures were analysed: 18 measures relating to nitrogen source and 5 measures relating to nature restoration. The source measures concern livestock farming, mobility, industry and construction. They include the national agricultural cessation measures, such as low-emissions barns and subsidies for cleaner engines for inland shipping and electric plane taxiing at Schiphol Airport.

Socio-economic effects: positive for the perception of the residential and living environment
Most measures contribute positively to the living environment and housing. This is because the measures limit interference with everyday life in terms of air, smell and sound pollution.

Material prosperity
Material prosperity is affected positively and negatively by an equal number of measures. The negative effects are caused by the agricultural cessation measures, which reduce animal welfare in the livestock chain (e.g. supplying and processing industries). Comparatively, the measures result in growth in other sectors, such as additional production and income in companies that implement nature restoration measures.

Labour and leisure
On balance, the measures have a negative impact on labour and leisure because the increase in jobs in the non-agricultural sectors does not adequately counterbalance the decrease in agricultural sector jobs.

The package of measures achieves emission reductions of NOx and particulate matter, which contributes to the theme positively.

This theme is positively influenced by the measures’ contribution to, for example, animal welfare, better enforcement of regulation and a more balanced distribution of balance and burdens.

The environment is positively affected by the agricultural measures that reduce the amount of manure produced, leading to a decrease in greenhouse gasses and nitrate leaching. The greatest environmental gains are achieved using cessation measures. The mobility, industry and construction measures also have a positive impact on the environment thanks to the reduction of necessary fossil fuels, for example, by switching to electric power.

Safety is positively influenced by the cessation measures in particular, under the condition that vacant barns are demolished, which prevents the development of illegal activities on vacant premises.

Subjective wellbeing
The cessation measures result in job losses in the livestock chain, which has a negative impact on the subjective well-being of the employees involved in the chain. The analysis considers that some people will be able to find employment again after some time.

Feasibility and affordability
The analysis of the measures’ feasibility is based on six aspects: suitability at a business level, support from involved entrepreneurs, legal feasibility, relationship to other legislation, enforceability and introduction/implementation. The biggest feasibility issues concern agriculture, while other sectors’ feasibility tends to be ‘positive’ (scored 4 on a scale of 1-5). In agriculture, the incorporation of measures into operational management and entrepreneurial support play a role.

The WUR analysis also analysed the affordability of the package of measures. In terms of resource use, it is noticeable that more than two-thirds of the 3.8 billion EUR available goes to agriculture. Approximately 15% of the funds go to construction; the same percentage for nature and a limited part for mobility and industry measures.

Companies in these sectors receive compensation for emission reduction and/or transitions, but in many instances, this compensation is less than the costs the companies have to incur. Nature restoration measures are an exception (with 100% compensation), as are the cessation measures. This ‘personal contribution’ from companies has a negative impact on affordability, but the net contribution is significantly lower than if the ‘polluter pays’ principle or the prohibition principle (fewer or no emissions permitted) were followed.

Nitrogen emission and deposition
The effectiveness of the measures package within the PSN programme on nitrogen emissions and depositions has not been looked into. It is possible that additional measures will be necessary to achieve the programme’s objectives, particularly in the agricultural sector. These additions are not included in the current analysis, but they will have an impact on the feasibility and affordability of the package of measures, for example. In that instance, a new analysis of socio-economic effects, feasibility and affordability will be necessary.