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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Netherlands

Article 21 of the Netherlands’ constitution contains provisions for the protection of the environment, stating: “It shall be the concern of the authorities to keep the country habitable and to protect and improve the environment”. The most important environmental regulations in The Netherlands are the:

  • General Environmental Law Act (Wet algemene bepalingen omgevingsrecht)
  • Environmental Management Act (Wet Milieubeheer)
  • Water Act (Waterwet)
  • Nature Protection Act 1998 (Natuurbeschermingswet 1998)
  • Flora and Fauna Act (Flora- en faunawet)
  • Soil Protection Act (Wet Bodembescherming)
  • Featured Legislation

    1993: The General Environmental Law Act was passed, creating an integrated permit application procedure that combines the decision-making process in relation to, for example, spatial planning regulations, construction regulations and environmental regulations.

    1998: The ​​Nature Protection Act was enacted. This legislation protects different species of plants and animals such as bats and sparrows, maintaining a healthy natural environment for more opportunities for economic and other social activities.

    1998: The Flora and Fauna Act was adopted. The Act provides for the implementation of Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds and Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

    2004: The Environmental Management Act was approved. The Act stipulates the tools to be used in environmental management including:

    • Environmental plans
    • Environmental quality criteria for emissions and discharges of harmful substances such as greenhouse gases and heavy metals to air, water and soil
    • Environmental impact assessment
    • Environmental reporting
    • Enforcement

    2009: The Water Act was signed. The legislation integrates several previous Acts dealing with quantity and quality aspects of water. The water-permit is dealt with, as well as the implementation of the EU-Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC).

    2013: The Soil Protection Act was created, establishing that permits must be obtained before certain activities may be performed. The permits are issued by the competent authorities. For soil policy, this law means that permits must state the extent to which companies must make provisions to protect the environment and the land.  A responsibility to return the soil to its original state may also be in force. In most cases, the permits are issued by the municipalities and/or the provinces.

    2015: A Declaration for the establishment of a Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary in the Netherlands was drafted. This Declaration of the State Secretary of Economic Affairs, responsible for nature conservation of the Netherlands, establishes a refuge for the protection and conservation of marine mammals and sharks (“Sanctuary") in the waters under Dutch sovereignty and jurisdiction in the Caribbean Netherlands.

    2016: National Water Plan. This National Water Plan provides the broad outlines, principles and direction of the national water policy of the Netherlands for the 2016-2021 planning period, with a projection towards 2050. It also concerns related aspects of spatial policy. The National Water Plan lays down the central government’s strategic goals for water management. The Management and Development Plan for the National Waters by Rijkswaterstaat (RWS) outlines the conditions and measures for operational management to achieve these strategic goals. The planning period will see realistic measures being implemented that address the challenges in the short term and leave sufficient options open for taking further steps in the longer term. The Plan aims at effective protection against floods, at the prevention of pluvial flooding and drought, and at achieving good water quality and a healthy ecosystem as the basis for welfare and prosperity. The Plan incorporates the so-called “Delta Decisions" and is in line with other policies, the Environment and Planning Act, the Water Framework Directive, the European Directive on the assessment and management of flood risks and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The Plan also contains elements of coastal zone management.

    2016: Environment and Planning Act. This Act reforms environmental law with special emphasis on planning. It seeks to modernise, harmonise and simplify current rules on land use planning, environmental protection, nature conservation, construction of buildings, protection of cultural heritage, water management, urban and rural redevelopment, development of major public and private works and mining and earth removal and integrate these rules into one legal framework. Sustainable development is the key objective of the Act. It provides better means of integrated policy, greater usability and substantial simplification of environmental law. The Act introduces a new system creating a policy cycle in which continuous care for quality of the physical environment forms the focus and which creates scope for development. With this Act and the associated implementation regulations, the government aims to achieve four improvement goals: improving the transparency, predictability and ease of use of environmental law; achieving a coherent approach towards the physical environment in policy, decision-making and regulations; more administrative discretion by means of an active and flexible approach in order to achieve objectives for the physical living environment; improving and speeding up the decision-making with regard to projects in the physical environment.

    Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • The Netherlands Court of Audit has identified 500 companies that work with large volumes of hazardous substances, and who repeatedly violate environmental laws, according to a 2021 brief. The audit required intense editing and analysis of data on the 500 company sites inspected over a period of 5 years. Commentators assert that The Netherlands’ approach to environmental governance is inadequate, due to the lack of good, reliable information on the outcomes of inspections at companies that work with large volumes of hazardous substances. In approximately 1 out of 3 violations detected, it was unclear  what enforcement measures were taken in relation to serious cases. What is more, there is a pronounced lack of coordination between the Minister of Justice and Security, the State Secretary for Infrastructure, and Water Management officials. This lack of strategic communication between said entities results in recidivism among companies, making it impossible to adapt policy appropriately. According to the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT), the cost of environmental crime and violations in 2020 was €4.35 billion. The majority of these crimes resulted from soil, air, groundwater and surface water pollution. What makes matters worse, most criminal cases end with the public prosecutor agreeing to a penalty payment or out-of-court settlement of less than €10,000, creating little incentive for companies to comply with environmental legislation.

    References and Further Reading


    Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: Minister H.E. Ms. Cora Van Nieuwenhuizen,