Reducing nitrogen pollution: Flanders launches public enquiry

Reducing nitrogen pollution: Flanders launches public enquiry
A farm in Flanders. Photo by Helen Lyons/The Brussels Times.

From Tuesday, people living in Flanders will be able to scrutinise the draft nitrogen framework and the accompanying environmental impact report, where the government hopes to drastically reduce nitrogen emissions.

Significant excess nitrogen has been registered in the natural environment since it is used as a fertiliser for intensive agriculture.

Now, the draft of the Flemish Government's new approach to nitrogen and the accompanying environmental impact report can be consulted by a range of stakeholders, from citizens to organisations and administrations, from today until 18 June.

"This public enquiry gives everyone their chance to comment," said Environment Minister Zuhal Demir. Feedback can be sent to municipal executive committees, which will then be sent to the Department of the Environment.

"In the meantime, we are not sitting still. The peak polluters and red-listed companies are already being contacted and all regulations are being prepared," Demir added.

With the package of measures, Flanders wants to drastically reduce nitrogen emissions to avoid a permit freeze such as one in place in the Netherlands, where nitrogen emissions are the highest in Europe.

Backlash from farmers

In February, the regional government, following lengthy discussions, reached an agreement regarding the definitive Programmatic Approach to Nitrogen (PAS) – the so-called nitrogen agreement – and the accompanying adjustment of the fertiliser policy.

What was meant to be a package of measures that would sharply reduce NOx and ammonia (NH3) emissions – which plays a significant role in soil degradation, among others – throughout Flanders, while providing "oxygen for sustainable agriculture," has instead resulted in outrage from Flemish farmers.

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According to the Flemish Farmers' Union (Boerenbond), the framework "is a sledgehammer blow for our agriculture and horticulture," as it includes measures that reportedly make entrepreneurship and developments in the sector impossible.

Tweet translation: Several farmers came together in Glabbeek to express their dissatisfaction with the nitrogen agreement. Mayor Reekmans supported the action & will lodge an objection against the draft memorandum: "If you can't farm in an agricultural municipality, where can you?" 

Since the draft agreement and public enquiry were announced in the Crocus agreement, the union has campaigned under the slogan 'Stop the madness' and the hashtag #givefarmersafuture, together with Groene Kring and Ferm.

"With our actions, we want to make our voices heard loud and clear so that the government takes our objections seriously," Boerenbond said in a statement on its website.

Demir has talked to several farmers about their outrage in recent months. "They are often shocked by the measures that are necessary to protect our environment and health, but at the same time, many understand that doing nothing is not an option."

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