Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment

Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment Annual report 2020

Advice in the Netherlands

202052 mandatory81 non-mandatory
201945 mandatory85 non-mandatory
201863 mandatory81 non-mandatory

International activities

202032 advisory reports20 countries/regions capacity development
201934 advisory reports25 countries/regions capacity development
201842 advisory reports20 countries/regions capacity development

The Netherlands
The circular economy and energy transition are gaining momentum, as can be seen from the projects the NCEA advised on in 2020: wind and solar energy, CO2 capture and storage, and bioethanol, methanol and hydrogen plants. Not infrequently, plans trigger public debate: for example, those relating to biomass, or to wind energy for mega data centres, or to Lelystad Airport, or to the motorway A27 at Amelisweerd. The NCEA advises in the midst of these social developments.
When assessing nature restoration projects, it is striking that management measures such as sod stripping are insufficient to achieve the nature conservation targets. More measures are required, such as adjusting the water level and reducing nitrogen emissions at source.
Unfortunately, in many cases in the Netherlands, no environmental assessment report is being prepared. That is risky and unwise, because it has been demonstrated that an environmental assessment report contributes importantly to better decisions.

The NCEA issued 32 advisory reports in 17 countries en 2 regions. In 15 countries and 5 regions we worked on the quality of regulations, local capacity and knowledge exchange. To name a few highlights: In the Sankarani region in Mali, we have started a coaching process of the strategic environmental assessment (SEA) that local authorities are carrying out for their integral development plan. This is an exciting process because it is the first SEA in the area. With this assessment the authorities want to achieve a plan that contributes to the SDGs. A second highlight this year was the webinar we organised with environmental assessment experts from almost all West African countries. Such a meeting had never taken place before. We see this as a basis for future ESIA / SEA developments in the Sahel region. Finally, we completed our contribution to the Shared Resources Joint Solutions Programme. In the evaluation of this programme it was concluded that the creation of lasting partnerships is one of the most important results that environmental assessment can bring. The programme resulted in coalitions of actors with different viewpoints. According to the evaluation report, 'this would not have been possible without the NCEA', an achievement we are very pleased about.

Unsurprisingly, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 our work was done very differently: it was a year without site visits in the Netherlands or abroad. Fortunately, a lot was possible digitally, which has resulted in new working methods that will certainly continue to be applied in the future. But we are looking forward to meeting each other 'for real' again soon.


Improve the environmental assessment system? ESY mapping insightful

There are many pending investments in the Egyptian water sector and so a workshop was organised, in which local governments, academics and the non-profit sector used the ESY-MAP diagnostic tool to analyse their environmental assessment legislation and practice. They looked at what is going well and what improvements would make investments more sustainable. One of the outcomes was the identification of the need for clear guidelines on environmental assessment for investors, local residents, consultants and authorities.

ESY-MAP (Environmental and Social Assessment SYstem MAP) is a tool co-developed by the NCEA to analyse the environmental assessment system in a workshop with key stakeholders. The answers to 38 key questions and 150 detailed questions yield a picture of the state of legislation and practice and reveal priorities for improvement.

Spatial and Environmental Impact Assessment report helpful when considering a spatial planning & environment strategy

Many municipalities and provinces are working on a Spatial & Environment Strategy. The accompanying Environmental Impact Assessment report is increasingly being replaced by a Spatial and Environmental Impact Assessment report. That is not surprising, because this kind of a more comprehensive assessment fits in better with their new and more extensive integrated strategy. It helps reveal future impacts and choices in areas such as energy transition, climate adaptation, spatial quality and health. Various useful resources were developed in 2020, such as the Association of Dutch Municipalities' manual Assessment Framework Spatial & Environment Strategy and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations' Guide to Developing a Spatial & Environment Strategy. Because it can be quite a puzzle to map out the spatial and environmental impacts of a long-term strategy, we will continue to organise knowledge sessions in 2021 to offer support in this, particularly to municipalities.


Advice for Dutch investments abroad

As part of Dutch involvement in a river stabilisation project, the NCEA visited Bhutan in early 2020. Following discussions with stakeholders and a visit to the project sites, one of our main recommendations focused on the management of sediment mining. The way in which this is done is critical and can strengthen the effectiveness of the project, but also seriously jeopardise it. All our recommendations have been adopted by the Bhutan Environment Commission.

The Dutch Enterprise Agency (RVO) supports Dutch investments abroad. For many investments, local legislation requires an EA. At the request of the RVO, the NCEA advises on EA requirement, process and report. We issued 14 advisory reports this year, mainly focused on public infrastructure.


Eric van der Burg, new chair

Determining nitrogen damage with correct calculations

2020 was the year not only of COVID-19 but also of the excess nitrogen problem. In the Netherlands, the consequences of nitrogen emissions from agriculture, aviation and road traffic, and their impact on the living environment, regularly made headline news. As early as March, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment and the NCEA recommended that transparent and reproducible calculations of nitrogen be made for Lelystad Airport. In its judgement on the motorway A15/A12 routing decision the Council of State also noted the importance of such calculations, ruling that the minister had not provided sufficient evidence that the decision would not have adverse consequences for the Natura 2000 areas. As an independent organisation, the NCEA is in a good position to assess whether a correct picture has been given of impacts on the surrounding area. An important condition is that the NCEA has been given the opportunity to do so and has access to up-to-date and correct prognoses and nitrogen calculations.



Arcadis Consultancy study: concerns about environmental assessment in the Netherlands

Environmental assessment for sustainable development in West Africa

West African countries face the immense task of shaping sustainable developments in the areas of energy, climate change, urban development, land use and water use. As some countries already have good experience with strategic environmental assessment for plans and policies in these areas, the NCEA – together with two other organisations – brought together speakers from Mali, Senegal and Guinea to share their experience with local decision-makers from across West Africa. One such experience is the contribution that strategic environmental assessment makes to creating support and transparency. Involving stakeholders early in the planning process creates the support needed to implement policies.

Concrete objectives and new environmental limits needed for Aviation Policy Memorandum

The Aviation Policy Memorandum 2020–2050 outlines the relationship between the quality of the living environment and the scope for aviation. It sets a reduction target for CO2 but does not mention specific targets – for example, for noise or nature conservation. Neither is it sufficiently clear about what the proposed measures entail, or their effectiveness.
The NCEA advised Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management to make the targets and measures concrete and to substantiate them with environmental information: for example, about the new environmental limits that airports must comply with. This will entail investigating aspects such as how much growth is still possible without damaging the environment and to what extent the side-effects of using synthetic fuels and biofuels are acceptable.


First three of six animations on steps in the environmental assessment procedure online

Preventing dam breaks: environmental assessment for mining in Brazil

Dam failures in the mining industry occur regularly, resulting in fatalities and damage to nature. To prevent this, the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais wishes to draw up a multi-year mining plan that contributes to safety and sustainable development. It sees an important role for environmental assessment in this. The assessment must help to engage stakeholders in the entire process, integrate social and environmental effects into the planning process at an early stage and examine alternatives. According to the state of Minas Gerais, these are crucial aspects for the success of the plan. Via the Netherlands Embassy, Brazilian authorities requested the NCEA to advise on the design and implementation of this strategic environmental assessment. It is an interesting process for which we have met online with stakeholders several times over the past year.


Include large-scale solar farms and data centres in environmental assessment list?

Examples of the changes occurring in the Netherlands in response to innovation and new needs include the arrival of solar farms and data centres, which are in the news every day. Like wind farms and factories, these too have impact on the living environment. And their environmental impacts must also be thoroughly investigated before the government makes its decision, for example, about siting a large solar farm. What are the effects of such projects on nature and the landscape? And, in the case of a data centre, what about the energy it needs? Logically, large solar farms and data centres belong in the C and D lists of environmental assessment categories and their environmental assessment is mandatory. The NCEA argues that the legislation is lagging behind and needs to be amended, as this would provide clarity for local and other public authorities and strengthen careful decision-making.


Working together with VNG International on a sustainable development plan in Mali

In the Sankarani basin in Mali, various developments using the same existing resources and water supply are underway, such as mining, agriculture, fishing and migration. In order to steer these developments in the right direction, the local authorities want to draw up a sustainable development plan in which the various interests are properly balanced.

Inspired by the positive results of a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) for a similar plan for the Sourou area, they want to carry out an SEA for the Sankarani basin plan too. The local authorities have requested the NCEA to give coaching during this process. To do so, the NCEA is collaborating with VNG International, which is also supporting the project financially.


Be alert to the environmental impacts of CO2 capture and storage

Capturing CO2 from industry and storing it (for example, under the North Sea) could help achieve climate objectives. Porthos Rotterdam and SUEZ ReEnergy in Roosendaal are among those working on these techniques. The NCEA recommends being alert to negative environmental impacts of these techniques, such as the emission of substances of very high concern and of nitrogen released during CO2 capture and storage. At present, the extent of these emissions is still uncertain. It is important to investigate whether the emissions fit in with regulations on nature and national clean air targets. Storing CO2 can also have effects on the subsurface, so NCEA recommended investigating these in advance.


Publication: cases on environmental assessment and landscape approach from 10 countries

Environmental assessment part of new cooperation between the Egyptian and Dutch water sectors

Egypt and the Netherlands have been successfully cooperating in research and knowledge exchange in the water sector since the 1970s. In December 2020, a new four-year agreement was signed between various government organisations and research institutes focused on water management. Part of the new agreement entails further developing and strengthening environmental assessment for the water sector. We are honoured to be participating in this cooperation and look forward to exchanging knowledge with our Egyptian partners.


Insight into environmental impacts is helpful when making choices in regional energy strategy

Determining where sustainable energy projects can be implemented requires insight into their environmental impact. Municipalities need this information so they can include these projects in their spatial and environment strategy. And if a municipality wants to keep control of the consequences – for nature and the landscape, for example – then coordination beyond its administrative boundary is necessary. Not for nothing has the House of Representatives adopted a motion requiring each regional energy strategy (RES) to have a strategic environmental assessment report. We collaborated with the National RES Programme to conduct a pilot project to support regions in gathering environmental information for their RES. We made a short film about our experience. A pilot will run in 2021 too.


More facts, figures, advisory reports The Netherlands

133 advisory reports in 2020

In 2020, the NCEA issued 133 advisory reports, which is a similar number to that of recent years: in 2018 there were 144 and in 2019 there were 130. The 2020 total is about a third of the number of advisory reports we issued annually from 2008 to 2010. The decline began in 2010.

Mandatory versus non-mandatory advisory reports

Of the 133 advisory reports, 52 were mandatory advisory reviews and 81 were non-mandatory advisory reports on, for example, the scoping of an environmental assessment report. The number of mandatory advisory reviews in 2020 is comparable to that (45) in 2019. It is likely that the number of mandatory reviews will drop further when the Environment and Planning Act comes into force, because the mandatory requirement for NCEA to advise on environmental impact assessments for controversial and complex projects such as large wind farms, motorways and dike reinforcements, will then lapse. The number of non-mandatory advisory reports has remained stable in recent years, hovering around 80 per year.

More water projects, fewer projects in rural areas

There was a striking increase in the number of water projects in 2020: from 12 in 2019 to 27 in 2020 – a return to the level of previous years. Projects in rural areas, such as zoning plans for rural areas and plans for nature development and restoration, declined sharply: from 22 in 2019 to 7 in 2020. The current problem of excess nitrogen emissions is a possible reason for this, as is the impending Environment and Planning Act, which has resulted in policy on nature and nitrogen coming to a standstill and municipalities now making few plans – or no plans at all.

Central government allowed views to be taken into account in half of the projects

Civic participation by residents and the possibility of submitting views on a plan often lead to more support for a government decision. Our advice also gains in quality from insight into the submissions. In practice, it turned out that 60 per cent of public authorities allowed views to be taken into account in our advisory reports, which is a slight increase compared to 2019. The increase has come about because the central government more often allowed views to be included in advisory reports on scoping. In reviews of central government infrastructure projects, views were often omitted.

Quality of environmental assessment reports worrisome

Eighty per cent of the environmental assessment reports reviewed in 2020 lacked important environmental information. This mainly concerned missing information about the impacts on Natura 2000 areas. The excess nitrogen problem will have played a role in this. Alternatives and impacts on the living environment, such as noise, also received inadequate attention.
A third of the environmental assessment reports with missing information were supplemented and resubmitted to us. Fifty per cent of these supplemented reports were then complete.

More facts, figures, activities International

Some of the work we do abroad is the same as in the Netherlands, namely advising on terms of reference and reviewing environmental assessment reports. But we also devote much time to other activities, such as advising on environmental assessment legislation and regulations, giving coaching on strategic environmental assessment processes, training staff of environmental authorities and NGOs, and screening project proposals to see if they comply with local obligations for environmental assessment.

For some years, we have been actively involved with Dutch facilities concerned with the aid and trade agenda of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We advise RVO (Netherlands Enterprise Agency) – which coordinates these facilities – on the role of environmental assessment in the project proposals, local obligations for environmental assessment and the environmental assessment procedure to follow.

As part of the Sustainability Advice Programme, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (including the embassies) may request our advice on issues relating to integral sustainable development – for example, relating to consistency of foreign policy, or to the environmental, economic/social and institutional sustainability of specific programmes.

29 environmental assessment advisory reports & 25 capacity development trajectories/ activities


Knowledge & communication

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784.333 website visits

75 presentations

10 publications

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37 employees =152 experts =

16The Netherlands +7 men9 women12,7 fte

15 International +4 men11 women11,4 fte

6 Backoffice1 man5 women4,6 fte

111 The Netherlands +

41 International

Employees per 31 december 2020




€ 3.260.271 The Netherlands

€ 2.154.876 International - DGIS / Ministry of Foreign Affairs

€ 171.686 International - other

All amounts are in euros
Dutch operating balance does not include budget for our 'knowledge programme'.

The Netherlands 2020 2019
Staffing costs 1.702.423 1.864.404
Remuneration experts (project expenses) 1.296.902 1.093.530
Depreciation 18.573 15.816
Accommodation 135.559 121.879
Administration 19.690 29.478
ICT 53.115 53.437
General expenses 34.009 61.209
Total expenses 3.260.271 3.239.753
Interest and miscellaneous income 45.082 19.241
Income advisory services in the Netherlands 2.863.027 2.512.126
Total income 2.908.109 2.531.367
Balance -352.162 -708.386
Number of advisory reports 133 130
International DGIS/Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2020 2019
Staffing costs 1.476.359 1.456.343
Remuneration experts (project expenses) 437.461 654.798
Depreciation 17.480 17.433
Accommodation 116.003 105.139
Administration 14.310 21.559
ICT 63.453 38.539
General expenses 29.810 35.732
Total expenses 2.154.876 2.329.543
Interest and miscellaneous income 8.271 3
Contribution from government department (DGIS/ Ministry of Foreign Affairs) 2.135.791 2.341.012
Total income 2.144.062 2.341.015
Balance -10.814 11.472
International other 2020 2019
Staffing costs 147.945 228.605
Remuneration experts (project expenses) 23.741 105.967
Total expenses 171.686 1334.572
Total income international advisory services 155.173 327.831
Balance -16.513 -6.741

Mission & Vision


The Netherlands Commission for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) - established by law - is an independent not-for-profit knowledge institute in the field of environmental and social impacts. This knowledge is used to advise and support Dutch and foreign governments with the integration of environmental, social and climate considerations in decision-making. This is done with integrity and in an authoritative and transparent manner.


The NCEA's work ensures that governmental authorities have access to the knowledge of environmental, social and climate issues they need when making decisions. As a result, governmental decisions are of better quality, better substantiated and more widely supported. In this way, the NCEA contributes to the quality of the living environment and to sustainable development in the Netherlands and abroad.