This is an overview of Dutch environmental laws, including climate change legislation, highlights, trends and recent developments that are of importance when doing business in the Netherlands. The focus is on environmental laws applicable to operating industrial sites (‘facilities’), but Dutch environmental legislation covers a much broader range of activities and products. This chapter therefore is an introduction only, and is limited to the European part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (historically, certain island territories in the Caribbean form part of the Netherlands).

The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country and a Member State of the European Union (EU). It is home to one of the largest port and petrochemical areas in Europe, and is one of the world’s largest exporters of food and agricultural products. The Netherlands has a flat geography, a significant part of which is below sea level, and hosts a relatively large number of wetlands.

The Netherlands has a well-established system of environmental laws that is often perceived as detailed and complex. Furthermore, the Netherlands has a well-established system of inspections and enforcement, as is discussed in greater detail below.

The Dutch government has a tradition of being a frontrunner in respect of environmental protection within the EU. In implementing EU laws, the Dutch legislator often used to go beyond the level of protection agreed on a communal level. Recently, however, the Dutch legislator seems more keen on directly transposing EU requirements without introducing additional national requirements. Nonetheless, the Dutch government still has high policy ambitions in respect of various environmental topics, including climate change, the circular economy and promoting sustainability, including wind power.

Next to the various legal instruments available, increasingly, the Dutch government enters into agreements, known as ‘green deals’ with other authorities, NGOs and companies. The aim is to promote and accelerate sustainable innovation in the areas of energy, bio-based economy, mobility, water, food, biodiversity, resources, construction and climate. The green deal defines the initiative and the required action from each of the participants as clearly as possible, if possible in quantitative output objectives. To date, about 200 green deals have been closed, involving over 1,000 participants.

The scope and complexity of current environmental laws have triggered what is the largest system reform of Dutch environmental laws to date. This legislative project is ongoing, and aims for a full integration of virtually all environmental acts, including legislation on zoning and planning and on nature protection, into a single Environment and Planning Act. Although the Act has been adopted by Dutch parliament, the entire system reform is not expected to be completed before 2021 (the anticipated date of entry into force of the Act currently being 1 January 2021). The future Environment and Planning Act will have a significant impact on the environmental laws that apply to industrial facilities.


The primary source of environmental law is the Dutch Environmental Management Act (EMA). The EMA contains an extensive set of rules with regard to various environmental topics, such as waste management, environmental impact assessment, greenhouse gas emission allowance trading, noise ceilings, air quality standards, etc. The EMA also serves as the legal framework for setting more detailed rules by order in council and ministerial decree, and numerous of such orders and decrees have been adopted under the EMA over time. In addition, the EMA describes the roles of municipal, provincial and national authorities in respect of environmental management.

Under the EMA, general environmental rules for facilities have been set in the Dutch Decree containing general rules for the regulation of facilities in the interest of protecting the environment (the Activities Decree). All facilities in the Netherlands (e.g., factories and offices buildings) are subject to the Activities Decree, that covers basically any environmental topic (noise, air emissions, soil, etc.). Inter alia, the Activities Decree prescribes that a zero base soil survey is conducted before starting operations (and requires that the soil is brought back to these conditions if the facility is shut down). Further general rules include air emission limit values and maximum noise and odour limits, as well as mandatory energy saving measures. Discretionary powers may exist under the Decree for the competent authority to deviate from the general rules by means of ‘customised environmental requirements’ that apply to a specific facility, taking into account the specific circumstances of the case at hand. The general rules set by the Activities Decree have been supplemented by detailed and technical rules set by the Activities Regulation, inter alia, on monitoring requirements.

In addition to the general rules that apply under the Activities Decree, designated facilities – commonly referred to in the Netherlands as ‘Type C’-facilities – also require an environmental operating permit. These include facilities in scope of the EU Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) regime (EU Directive 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC facilities)) and other facilities that are deemed to have a more significant impact on the environment and have been designated as such. Permit conditions attached to environmental operating permits must be based upon the best available techniques, as detailed in reference documents. These include reference documents available on an EU level, commonly referred to as Best available technique Reference documents. The issuance of permits, including procedural rules, legal redress and enforcement action, is governed by the Act containing general provisions on environmental permitting (WABO). Supplemental requirements apply under the General Administrative Law Act.

The WABO forms the legal basis for also permitting various other activities (than operating a facility), such as building activities, deviating from a municipal zoning plan, activities that involve designated monuments, etc. Typically, an environmental operating permit will include various other activities as well, and is therefore referred to as an ‘integrated permit’. Note that certain designated activities in facilities – inter alia, various specific waste handling activities – require a limited environmental permit under the WABO. Such a limited environmental permit does not contain permit conditions.

Various other environmental laws apply in the Netherlands, such as the current Nature Protection Act that applies as of 1 January 2017 and provides the legal regime for protecting flora and fauna, Natura 2000 areas and the Dutch forests. This Act is discussed in greater detail below. Other acts include, for instance, the Soil Protection Act (SPA; also discussed in greater detail below) and the Water Act. The latter Act provides for a dedicated permitting regime for, inter alia, activities that may adversely impact the surface water quality (e.g., discharges of wastewater) or groundwater (e.g., groundwater extraction), and activities within water works (e.g., the construction and operation of an offshore wind farm).

In addition to the various acts, decrees and regulations, a body of guidelines, advice and other guidance documents exists, that is often prepared in consultation with business representatives and that covers a broad range of technical environmental topics. In some cases, the law explicitly refers to such documents and requires that their content is adhered to. In other cases, such documents are considered under case law to represent the latest technical insights, implying that the authority may rely on its content, for instance in issuing a permit. An important example forms the Publication Series on Dangerous Substances (PGS). The PGS requirements are especially important for companies that store gases and liquids, many of which are located at the large industrial port of Rotterdam. The Activities Decree refers to the PGS. The PGS is updated from time to time as technology progresses.


Who the regulator is in respect of environmental matters depends on the matter involved. In respect of facilities, in principle, the municipality in which a facility is located is the authority empowered to issue permits or take enforcement action. In some cases, this power resides with the province instead. This, more specifically, concerns facilities that are in scope of the Dutch Risks of Major Accidents Decree 2015 and designated IPPC facilities. Under very specific circumstances, the Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management (the Minister) is the competent authority.

In other matters, who the regulator is may vary. For instance, in matters concerning nature protection, powers in principle reside with the province, while in product stewardship matters powers often reside at a national level.

Day-to-day handling of environmental matters on a municipal and provincial level takes place by regional environmental bodies, acting on behalf of the authority, while on a national level, inspections and enforcement are carried out by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT), acting on behalf of the Minister or State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management. Other national inspectorate bodies and departments may be involved as well.

A violation of environmental law may also be considered a criminal offence and may therefore be investigated by the police and criminally prosecuted by the Public Prosecutor, which is discussed below.


Under Dutch environmental law, scope for enforcement, including in respect of general rules and permit conditions, exists under both administrative and criminal law. In addition, anyone incurring damages as a result of the infringement may seek an injunction or compensation of damages under civil law.

i Administrative law enforcement

Enforcement under administrative law is primarily aimed at undoing the violation and preventing new violations from occurring, while criminal proceedings are aimed at imposing a punitive sanction. The most common administrative law sanctions are an order under administrative coercion and an order under penalty payment. In case of an order under administrative coercion, the government will remedy the violation at the expense of the violator, often after expiry of a mandatory grace period. In case of an order under penalty payment, a penalty is forfeited for the duration that the violation continues to exist after the grace period. No maximum amount applies in respect of the order under penalty payment, but the penalty must be proportionate, yet effective. Further administrative sanctions include withdrawal of the environmental operating permit, which is usually seen as a last resort measure, while in designated cases an administrative fine may be imposed (e.g., for certain violations in respect of the Emissions Trading Scheme). A recent trend under environmental law is the broader introduction of such administrative fines. For instance, the Nature Protection Act, which entered into force on 1 January 2017, allows for imposing administrative fines in respect of certain violations. It is anticipated that under the future Environment and Planning Act, administrative fines will become a common sanction in environmental law.

The authorities may take enforcement action ex officio, or upon request by a third party, including a competitor. Violations must in principle be enforced. Exceptions may include that legalisation is imminent (e.g., the authority is about to issue a permit that takes away the violation), or if enforcement action is deemed disproportionate, which is not often the case. Also, enforcement action may not be taken where the authority’s own, reasonable policy dictates otherwise, for instance stipulating that a warning letter is sent first. Dutch authorities often send warning letters, and in most cases a draft version of the sanction decision must be sent first, allowing the addressee to submit its views on the intended sanction. In case a violation is tolerated, this should in principle take the form of a formal decision to tolerate, imposing a deadline and conditions that mitigate the impact of the violation. In practice, however, occasionally no enforcement action will be taken without a formal decision to tolerate. A general trend is, however, that authorities are more stringent when it comes to inspections and taking enforcement action. In this respect, almost all authorities have adopted a nationwide enforcement strategy, which provides for a uniform approach to environmental violations.

Over the past years, various regional environmental bodies have been set up in the Netherlands. These bodies – of which DCMR in the Rotterdam area is the best known – consist of environmental experts who act on behalf of the various authorities in the region, by issuing permits, carrying out inspections and taking enforcement action. Only a number of dedicated regional environmental bodies deal with (external) safety issues. In 2016, legislation was adopted aimed at enhancing the quality of permit issuance, inspections and enforcement action, inter alia, requiring all authorities involved, including criminal authorities, to share information with each other.

The Netherlands has implemented the principles of the Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC, as amended; ELD). Operators carrying out dangerous activities listed in Annex III of the ELD can be held strictly liable under administrative law for violations of environmental legislation, including permit requirements, and can be forced to remedy or compensate environmental damages caused by the violation.

ii Criminal law enforcement

The Public Prosecutor’s office is charged with enforcement pursuant to criminal law. Both legal entities and natural persons may be prosecuted for criminal offences. A legal entity can be held criminally liable for any criminal act that can be attributed to it. Whether an offence can be attributed to a legal entity will depend on the specific circumstances, including on whether the offence is within the normal activities of the legal entity and whether the legal entity exercised control over the offence. Officers of the company can also be held criminally liable when they have given factual directions regarding the event. Examples would include if the individual did not take measures to prevent the offence, even though he or she had the authority and reasonable duty to do so. In a decision of April 2016, the Supreme Court reconfirmed and clarified the position regarding criminal liability of the individual who has given factual directions regarding the offence.2

Most violations of specific environmental laws and regulations have been designated as criminal offences. The Dutch Penal Code also provides for a number of general environmental offences, including a prohibition on bringing a hazardous substance in the soil, air or surface water, and a duty for operators of industrial plants to take reasonable measures to prevent or limit danger to health or the environment when producing or making available substances, preparations or GMOs.

For most offences, Dutch law makes a distinction between acting ‘at fault’, or with ‘intent’, which, if proven, results in more severe punishment. Fault is the lightest form of culpability under Dutch law: the mere fact that culpability can be established (e.g., recklessness, knowledge, neglect) suffices. Intent can also be presumed to be present if a defendant knowingly and willingly accepted the considerable chance that harm would occur. If safety measures are not complied with, this can also lead to the establishment of ‘intent’.

In addition to the above, for less severe violations of environmental law an ‘on-the-spot’ criminal fine may be imposed by government decision, instead of court ruling. These fines are relatively limited, and legal redress is available.

iii Civil law enforcement

Civil law is rarely applied to achieve enforcement objectives, though the authorities may also file civil law claims against polluters if no administrative law instruments are available. Anyone incurring damages as a result of a violation of a statutory duty, a property right, or an unwritten duty of proper social conduct that can also be regarded as a fault, can seek an injunction or compensation of damages under civil law from the perpetrator. A related application of civil law to force government to take action to achieve policy objectives is the ‘Urgenda’ litigation, referred to in Section VII, below. Meanwhile, the State of the Netherlands has also been held liable for a failure to achieve air quality standards (see Section VI.i, below).


Typically, permit conditions will require the permit holder to report the facility’s emissions to the competent authorities on a frequent basis (monthly, quarterly, etc.). Similar reporting requirements apply under the Activities Decree in respect of the general rules set. Also, companies participating in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) must report on their emissions annually, in the form of a verified emissions report. Whereas such reporting requirements concern the normal business operations, additional requirements apply to specific events, the main ones of which are the following:

  • a Under the EMA, unforeseen incidents that occur within a facility and that have, or threaten to have, a negative impact on the environment, must immediately be reported to the authorities. An unforeseen incident is any event that deviates from normal business operations and includes calamities and accidents as well as failures in the production process. Over and above the reporting requirement, additional requirements apply to the operator aimed at preventing, limiting or undoing a negative impact onto the environment.
  • b For IPPC facilities, the EMA imposes a similar reporting requirement in case of any non-compliance with permit conditions and general rules, other than that which is caused by an unforeseen incident.
  • c In addition, under the SPA, anyone conducting or involved in activities that cause soil contamination must immediately report the contamination to the authorities. As discussed in Section VI.v, below, in such case a duty of care applies, requiring the polluter to prevent, limit and undo the contamination as much as possible.
  • d Additional reporting regimes are in place in respect of specific activities. For instance, a reporting requirement similar to the requirement under the SPA applies under the Water Act in respect of activities that pollute river banks. Also, a reporting requirement applies under the Act on transport of dangerous substances in case of accidents or other incidents that may pose a risk to public safety. Furthermore, self-reporting obligations have been imposed by EU product stewardship legislation, such as the Dutch implementing laws for the EU’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive 2011/65/EU, that require the manufacturer to inform the authority when he or she has reason to believe that his or her product does not comply and poses a risk.

There is no specific rule on disclosure of environmental information in transactions. Under the Dutch Civil Code, however, the seller must disclose information, including information that the seller should know may be relevant for the buyer, while the buyer is under obligation to make its own due investigations. Although this depends on the merits of the case (including on the professionalism of the parties involved and what information is available in the public domain already, such as soil contamination registered in the Land Register, etc.), typically the seller’s disclosure requirement will prevail over the buyer’s duty to investigate. The seller is thus likely to be liable for failure to disclose information that was not self-evident. In transactions, it is common for the buyer to require warranties and indemnities for environmental matters from the seller. Usually, this is in itself a driver for the seller to disclose information.

As per 1 July 2016, an Act is in place aimed at protecting whistle-blowers, including in respect of environmental matters. The Act requires employers that employ at least 50 people, to set up internal procedures for the handling of internal abuse notifications. Labour laws protect the position of whistle-blowers, while a dedicated government agency has been set up providing general information as well as advice in actual whistle-blowing cases.


i Air quality

Air quality standards are primarily laid down in and on the basis of the EMA. These standards and requirements should be taken into account, inter alia, when determining whether an environmental permit for a facility may be granted. If an application for such permit has been submitted, the application should also include an assessment on whether the activities conducted within a facility do not lead to the exceeding of the applicable quality standards. Air emission standards and related requirements have been set in the Dutch Activities Decree, for instance with respect to combustion plants. The various standards and requirements, inter alia, concern NOx, SOx, and particle pollution, but also substances of very high concern.

The air quality standards referred to above also aim to implement the air quality standards set at the European level in Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. It has been established that those standards are not complied with at all locations in the Netherlands. Recently, the District Court in The Hague therefore ordered the Dutch State in injunction proceedings to adopt air quality plans, containing additional measures to comply with the air standards at all locations as soon as possible. This ruling is in line with previous case law of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).3 The District Court also ordered the State to refrain from taking measures in the meantime that could negatively affect the possibility to comply with the air quality standards as soon as possible.4 The Dutch State has filed a higher appeal against this ruling, as it may have a significant impact on government policy.

In future, the above-discussed rules will be included in the new Environment and Planning Act.

ii Water quality

The water quality regime in the Netherlands is primarily laid down in the Water Act. Said Act requires the Minister, in consultation with the Minister of Economic Affairs, to adopt a National Water Plan, as well as the provincial council of each province in the Netherlands to adopt regional water plans. The current National Water Plan is valid until 2021 and contains the principles and the framework of the national water policy. The National Water Plan refers to the EU Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC (WFD) and aims to further improve the water quality in line with the WFD. Further to the obligation to adopt a National Water Plan and regional water plans, the Water Act prohibits the discharge of waste water or contaminating or hazardous substances in surface waters, except when the discharge of these substances is allowed for under a water permit or the general rules laid down in the Water Decree.

The water quality standards mentioned in the WFD have been implemented in the Dutch Decree on quality requirements and monitoring for water 2009.

In future, the rules discussed above will be included in the new Environment and Planning Act.

iii Chemicals

Similar standards for the manufacturing, supply and safe use of chemicals apply across the entire European Economic Area, which includes the EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. In the Netherlands, as in any EU Member State, Regulation (EC) No. 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) has direct application. The aims of REACH include the protection of human health and the environment from the risks that can be posed by chemicals.

REACH establishes procedures for collecting and assessing information on the properties and hazards of substances. Companies need to register their substances and to do this they need to work together with other companies who register the same substance. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), the central regulatory authority in the implementation of REACH, receives and evaluates individual registrations for their compliance.

To allow companies and authorities to manage the workload related to registering chemicals, REACH introduced a staggered system for substances that were already on the European market in 2007 and that were pre-registered by 1 December 2008 (or in certain circumstances, a later pre-registration date) in accordance with REACH (phase-in substances). The most hazardous substances and those manufactured or imported in the largest quantities were to be registered first, in 2010, followed by the registration of chemicals in 2013 that were manufactured or imported at 100–1,000 tonnes a year. Finally, the chemicals manufactured or imported between 1–100 tonnes per year per company are to be registered last, before 31 May 2018.

ECHA has indicated that the 2018 registration will be quite different from the two previous ones, in terms of both the number of registrations and the type of registrants, which will include inexperienced players from outside the chemical sector, and more small and medium-sized enterprises.

Substances that do not fulfil the criteria for phase-in substances must be registered before they can be manufactured or imported in the EU.

The EU Member States evaluate selected substances and examine the quality of the registration dossiers and the testing proposals to clarify initial concerns for human health or for the environment. Authorities can ban hazardous substances if their risks are unmanageable. They can also decide to restrict a use or make it subject to a prior authorisation.

REACH impacts on a wide range of companies across many sectors, including manufacturers and importers into the EU. To a limited extent, downstream users may also have some responsibilities under REACH. The specific obligations that companies have depend on the type of products involved: substances on their own, including metals, mixtures, or articles.

In the Netherlands, Bureau REACH performs most tasks pursuant to REACH, including the management of the REACH helpdesk.5 Enforcement is the responsibility of a cooperation of the Labour Inspectorate, the Food and Goods Authority and the ILT.

Detailed guidelines exist regarding the storage and handling of hazardous substances: the Publication Series on Dangerous Substances. These guidelines apply to nearly all industrial facilities, through a reference in the Activities Decree, or in the environmental operating permit.

iv Solid and hazardous waste

Waste storage, transportation and disposal are controlled by a variety of legislation, both at a national and a regional level. Increasingly, there has been a legal emphasis on waste prevention and minimisation.

The EMA is the main Act setting out the obligations in respect of waste management and transportation. It defines the roles of parties involved in the waste processing chain such as the ‘disposer’, ‘transporter’ and ‘collector’ of waste, each having specific rights and obligations. For example, business waste may only be transferred to a permitted waste collector or certified transporter. In addition, the EMA has set a national landfill ban (i.e., landfilling may only occur at designated areas). Furthermore, on the basis of the EMA, a National Waste Management Plan must be drawn up setting out the national waste management policy for the years to come.

Similar to REACH, the EU Waste Transportation Regulation (EC) 1013/2006 applies in the Netherlands (and other EU Member States), setting out the legal requirements for transportation of waste from and to the Netherlands (e.g., transport of dangerous waste needs to be notified).

In future, the above-discussed (national) rules will be included in the new Environment and Planning Act.

Circular economy

The concept of a circular economy – where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised – has been embraced by the Dutch government. The Netherlands positions itself within the EU as a circular hotspot, and various ‘green deals’ on circular initiatives have been agreed upon by (semi-) public institutions and commercial parties. Next to these market initiatives, in the summer of 2016, a national policy programme named ‘the Netherlands circular in 2050’ was presented to the Dutch parliament. Much of the policy initiatives concern waste management and the recovery of raw materials from waste, although it must be noted that the Dutch government is bound to the EU law concept of ‘waste’.

Shell case

In respect of the latter, the judgment of the ECJ of 12 December 2013 in the Shell case (Cases C-241/12 and C-242/12) is worth mentioning here.6 This case concerned ultralight sulphur diesel (ULSD) that was accidentally mixed with methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). Because the flashpoint of the mixture was too low for it to be resold as fuel for diesel engines, the mixture was off spec. The District Court in Rotterdam filed a request for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ on the question whether the mixture could be qualified as waste. Under the EU Waste Framework Directive 2008/98 any substance or object that the holder discards, or intends or is required to discard can be considered as waste. The ECJ ruled that the mixture of ULSD and MTBE did not qualify as waste. According to the ECJ, particular attention must be paid to whether the substance in question is of any use to its holder. If not, the substance constitutes a burden which he or she will seek to discard in a way that is likely to cause harm to the environment. In the present case, however, the mixture of ULSD and MTBE did not constitute a burden. On the contrary, the holder had sent back the mixture with the intention of getting a refund under the sales contract, while the recipient had taken back the mixture with the intention of blending it and placing it back on the market.

The judgment of the ECJ in the Shell case has not gone unnoticed by the Dutch Council of State, the highest administrative judge in the Netherlands. The key factor for the Council of State in determining whether an object or substance can be considered as waste now appears to be whether the object or substance in question constitutes a burden for the holder that he or she will seek to discard in a way that is likely to harm the environment. Based on that factor, the Council of State has ruled, for example, that electric devices returned by customers do not qualify as waste, even those that should be repaired first in order to be reused.7 The Council of State reached the same conclusion in respect of flux-oil that still contained minor contaminations.8

v Contaminated land

The most important requirements regarding prevention and remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater have been laid down in the SPA. The SPA distinguishes between ‘historical’ soil and groundwater contamination (caused before 1 January 1987) and ‘new’ soil and groundwater contamination (caused from 1 January 1987 onward). All new soil contamination must be prevented as far as possible, and in the event that new soil or groundwater contamination occurs nonetheless, all new contamination must in principle be cleaned up. For historical soil contamination, remediation requirements only apply if the the authorities deem the soil contamination to be ‘severe’ and a clean-up urgently required. Whether contamination must be deemed severe contamination is determined by a number of factors, including whether certain limit values (intervention values) are exceeded. The urgency of a clean-up depends on a risk assessment.

Anyone who intends to remediate or move contamination must notify the authorities. Remediation may, in principle, only be carried out in accordance with a remediation plan that has been approved by the authorities. The objective of the clean-up should be that the soil becomes suitable for the intended use. Upon completion of the clean-up, a final report must be issued to the authorities for approval. The authorities will determine whether the clean-up meets the conditions stated in the remediation plan. If the contamination has not been entirely removed, restrictions regarding the use of the soil and ‘aftercare’ requirements (e.g., monitoring of potential migration) may also be imposed. The authorities may also require remediation prior to redevelopment as a condition of planning permission.

In theory, under the SPA, the polluter is primarily responsible for the contamination; if the polluter no longer exists or is not creditworthy, the landowner will be held responsible, regardless of whether he or she contributed to the contamination. However, the authorities have discretion in deciding whether to assign responsibility for remediation to either the polluter or the landowner, and in practice, the polluter plays a very limited role in the discussions.

The SPA does not deal with apportioning liability and recourse between the various parties that may be held responsible. That should be determined under rules of civil law. A party that is held responsible by the authorities for a remediation under the SPA, or otherwise incurs cost in relation to contamination he or she did not cause, may try to take recourse against the polluter on the basis of tort, or against the party from whom he or she acquired the site. In addition, an owner of a site from which contamination migrates to an adjacent site may be held liable by the owner of the adjacent site, regardless of whether the owner of the site caused the contamination.

In future, the rules regarding prevention and remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater will be included in the Environment and Planning Act (in the proposed bill for new soil protection legislation, the role of the polluter is even more limited). The focus on the landowner, which is already actual practice, will be formalised and the SPA will be withdrawn.

vi Nature protection

On 1 January 2017, the current Nature Protection Act entered into force. This Act provides the legal framework for, inter alia, the protection of protected flora and fauna and of habitats in designated Natura 2000 areas. Under the Nature Protection Act, the killing, disturbing and wounding of protected species is prohibited, unless an exemption has been obtained (or a general exemption applies). In addition, a permit is required for activities that may adversely affect a Natura 2000 area. With respect to nitrogen deposition, reference must be made to the Integrated Approach to Nitrogen (PAS) that was introduced in the Netherlands in July 2015. The PAS provides for the allocation of ‘nitrogen development space’ to projects that negatively impact a designated Natura 2000 area by means of nitrogen depositions. The available nitrogen development space is scarce. The PAS is currently the subject of legal proceedings. The Dutch Council of State recently submitted various questions for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ. In short, the Council of State has asked the ECJ to assess whether the PAS violates the European Habitats or Birds Directives (EU Directives 92/43/EEC and 2009/147/EC).9 A judgment of the ECJ is expected before 1 July 2018.


In the Netherlands, several laws and other initiatives are in place aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving energy efficiency. In September 2013, the Dutch government entered into a national Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth with various stakeholders. The agreement outlines a long-term strategy for renewable growth in the Netherlands. Offshore wind power has been identified as one of the key technologies to achieving the renewable energy targets.

New global climate change ambitions have been set by the Paris Treaty of December 2015. In follow-up, in September 2016, two members of the Dutch parliament proposed a Climate Act to anchor these ambitions into Dutch legislation. The bill puts clear long-term targets in place: it requires a national greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 55 per cent in 2030 and a reduction of 95 per cent in 2050 (in comparison to the levels in 1990). It also requires that the share of renewable energy must be 100 per cent by the end of 2050. The bill also provides for new policy instruments, such as a climate change plan and budget, but does not stipulate how these targets must be met. It is therefore currently unclear how the proposed Climate Act, if adopted, would affect Dutch climate change policy.

The EU Energy Efficiency Directive 2012/27/EU has been implemented in the Activities Decree. Among others, companies are required to conduct energy audits (every four years) in order to identify energy-saving measures that could decrease energy consumption within their businesses. In addition, all energy-saving measures with a payback period of five years or less must be taken.


As any other EU Member State, the Netherlands participates in the ETS for trading greenhouse gas emission allowances. The Dutch implementing laws are contained in the EMA, and require that listed facilities obtain a separate greenhouse gas emission permit from the Dutch Emissions Authority (NEa). Said permit will not impose emission limits, but instead will set out the framework for the facility’s monitoring plan. Companies must monitor their emissions throughout the year in accordance with this plan, and annually report on their emissions by means of a verified emissions report. Subsequently, the participating facilities must surrender sufficient allowances in order to compensate the emissions of the previous year. In most cases, facilities are eligible for a quantity of free allowances, while further emission allowances may be obtained through auctions or transactions with other parties participating in the ETS. According to the website of the NEa, around 450 companies in the Netherlands participate in the ETS, including industrial sectors and energy companies. The aviation industry has also been a participant in the system since 2012. During the current third phase of the ETS (2013–2020), auctions will gradually replace free allocation as the most important method for allocating allowances.

In future, the above-discussed (national) rules will be included in the new Environment and Planning Act.

ii Urgenda case

One of the most remarkable judgments relating to climate change is without doubt the landmark judgment of the District Court in The Hague of 24 June 2015.10 This judgment not only caught the attention of the Dutch media, but also that of the foreign media. The District Court in The Hague ruled that the state of the Netherlands must take more action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. More specifically, the state has to ensure that the Dutch greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 per cent lower than those in 1990. This is the first time that a court has ordered a government to set higher climate change targets. Not surprisingly, the ruling has encountered criticism. According to some scholars, the District Court’s ruling violates well-established case law of the Dutch Supreme Court, holding that a mandatory order to the legislature is fundamentally at odds with the constitutional role of the judiciary and is therefore not possible. Some scholars have even argued that climate change is a political issue that should not be addressed in court at all. In September 2015, the Dutch cabinet filed an appeal against the District Court’s ruling. A decision on the appeal may be expected soon.

iii Offshore Wind Energy Act

An Offshore Wind Energy Act (OWEA) entered into force on 1 July 2015 and provides for a completely new legal framework for the construction and operation of offshore wind farms. The OWEA aims to accelerate and streamline the decisions and authorisations required for an offshore wind farm. In short, the OWEA distinguishes between three stages of decision-making: (1) the determination of areas for the construction of wind farms in the National Water Plan; (2) the adoption of site decisions by the Minister of Economic Affairs in consultation with the Minister, which specifies the exact location and the conditions under which a wind farm can be constructed and operated; and (3) the issuance of a permit to a project developer that entails the exclusive right to construct and operate the wind farm, under a tender procedure.

Following the successful tenders for the Borssele wind farm zones, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs has recently started, for the first time, a tender for the development of an offshore wind farm based on the procedure without subsidies, as provided for in the OWEA. This tender concerns the wind farm zones Hollandse Kust (zuid), Sites I and II. If none of the applications received qualify for granting a permit on the basis of the OWEA, the tender procedure with subsidy – as known from the Borssele tenders – will be applied in subsequence.


As indicated, Dutch environmental law is on the eve of the largest system reform to date: the introduction of the Environment and Planning Act and its implementing legislation. Through the Act, the Dutch government aims to combine and simplify the regulations for projects that have an impact on the environment. The Act integrates 26 current acts (including, for instance, the above-mentioned Water Act, but also the Crisis and Recovery Act and legislation on zoning and planning, etc.), reducing 5,000 statutory provisions to 350, 120 orders in council to four, and 120 ministerial decrees to 10. The Act should result in fewer regulations applying to a project and reduce the burden on companies, inter alia, in respect of conducting studies. Moreover, the Act aims for quicker and better decision-making, allowing more room for private initiatives.

The upcoming Environment and Planning Act – that is expected to enter into force on 1 January 2021 – will heavily impact Dutch environmental law, and at least in the longer term provide for a more streamlined and simplified set of legal requirements. In the shorter term, it must be noted that this system reform follows relatively shortly after the introduction of the Water Act in 2009 and the WABO in 2010. At that time, these Acts already meant a major shift in Dutch environmental law, and their introduction showed that the day-to-day legal practice requires some time to adapt to new laws and regulations. It is, therefore, likely to take some time before the benefits of the upcoming Environment and Planning Act are truly enjoyed.

1 Henry van Geen is a partner, Jochem Spaans is a senior counsel and Seppe Stax and Rob van der Hulle are associates at Allen & Overy LLP Amsterdam.

2 Supreme Court 26 April 2016, ECLI:NL:HR:20163:733.

3 European Court of Justice 19 November 2014, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2382.

4 District Court of The Hague 7 September 2017, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2017:10171.

5 www.chemischestoffengoedgeregeld.nl/.

6 European Court of Justice 12 December 2013, ECLI:EU:C:2013:821.

7 Council of State 3 February 2016, ECLI:NL:RVS2016:192. However, this ruling did not prevent the Court of Appeal of The Hague to refer various questions for a preliminary ruling to the ECJ in a similar case; see Court of Appeal of The Hague 22 September 2017, ECLI:GHDHA:2017:2815.

8 Council of State, 19 November 2014, ECLI:NL:RVS2014:4130.

9 Council of State 17 May 2017, ECLI:NL:RVS:2017:1259 and ECLI:NL:RVS:2017:1260.

10 District Court of The Hague 24 June 2015, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2015:7145.