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NUcheckt: Why Schiphol is not the biggest cause of the nitrogen problem

2019-10-04T16:55:33.563Z daily checks messages for reliability. Claim: "Schiphol is the main cause of nitrogen problems." daily checks messages for reliability. Claim: "Schiphol is the main cause of nitrogen problems."

Verdict: False

The AD and RTV Drenthe , among others, wrote on 2 October that farmers would like to occupy Schiphol on 29 October. Via WhatsApp and other roads, farmers would be called upon to take action again after the demonstration on 1 October at Malieveld in The Hague.

In the WhatsApp message that various media published, it was stated that Schiphol is the biggest nitrogen problem and that this problem would be solved if Schiphol were to be flattened. But what role does Schiphol, and Dutch air traffic in general, really play in the current nitrogen problem?

What is the nitrogen problem?

The current nitrogen problem revolves around a number of substances that contain the element nitrogen: ammonia (NH3), which is emitted by agriculture, and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are emitted during combustion processes and thus emitted by, among others, traffic and industry.

If too many of these substances end up in nature reserves, this can affect biodiversity. According to European rules, the Netherlands must protect biodiversity in 160 nature areas in the Netherlands, the so-called Natura 2000 areas. 118 of these areas are "sensitive to nitrogen" according to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). In May the Council of State concluded that the Dutch regulations that must protect these areas are insufficient. Since then, many construction projects have come to a standstill.

See also: Eight questions (and answers) about the nitrogen problem

What is Schiphol's share?

Figures from the RIVM show that agriculture is responsible for around 40 percent of the harmful precipitation of nitrogen in the sensitive nature areas. Wim van der Maas from RIVM explains that Dutch air traffic provides approximately 0.1 percent of the nitrogen that settles in nitrogen-sensitive nature areas.

If you look at the emissions , then Dutch air traffic provides 4 kilotons of nitrogen oxide. This means that air traffic accounts for less than 1 percent of Dutch nitrogen emissions. For comparison: in 2017, road traffic generated 77 kilotons of nitrogen oxide.

According to RIVM, agriculture accounts for 46 percent of harmful nitrogen emissions.

Which air traffic is involved?

The precipitation and emission figures for air traffic do not cover all aircraft above the Netherlands. It only concerns the emissions of aircraft that land and take off in our country, and what they emit to a height of 3,000 feet (approximately 1 kilometer).

Van der Maas explains that according to international rules, emissions from air traffic must be calculated in this way. Moreover, this is the only air traffic emission that counts for national nitrogen emissions under that heading. Namely, the higher an aircraft flies, the higher nitrogen is emitted and the smaller the effect is on a specific area.

For example, aircraft that only fly over the Netherlands without landing or taking off here, do contribute to the precipitation of nitrogen in vulnerable nature areas. But Van der Maas explains that when this nitrogen precipitates, it is no longer possible to trace where it comes from. This nitrogen precipitation is therefore called 'unexplained'. According to Van der Maas, 10 percent of nitrogen precipitation in sensitive natural areas is 'unexplained'. This is therefore partly nitrogen from aircraft flying over, but also nitrogen from other sources.


Aircraft taking off and falling in the Netherlands, including those at Schiphol, only account for 0.1 percent of nitrogen precipitation in the sensitive areas, according to RIVM. It is not true that Schiphol is the main cause of the nitrogen problem.

See also: Flying is so bad for your own CO2 emissions

Source: nunl

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