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Context and methods print

Long-term trends such as the decreasing household size, the ageing population, international migration, economic growth, and increasing personal welfare, will change the Dutch natural and built environment significantly. This national foresight exercise analyses the combined impact of these trends on various aspects of the Dutch urban and rural landscape, including residential and industrial land use, traffic & transport, energy, agriculture, nature & landscape, water safety, and environment & health. Quantitative forecasts illustrate these trends as well as their effect on the natural and built environment.

Evaluating the long-term effects of current policy

The study assesses the long-term effects of current policy, given the international economic and demographic context of the Netherlands. Its qualitative and quantitative results should serve as a reference for policy-makers involved in spatial planning, housing, natural resources, infrastructure, and the environment. By exploring how land use and various aspects of the living environment may develop on the long run (2040), the study shows when current policy objectives may come under pressure, and which new issues may emerge.

Scenarios and extensive integrated modelling

The long-term future of the Dutch population and economic development and, consequently, of its natural and built environment is highly dependent on international factors. Two critical factors of uncertainty stand out: (1) to which extent will nations and international trade blocks cooperate and exchange, giving up some of their cultural identity and sovereignty? (2) how will governments balance between market forces and a strong public sector? These international political choices determine four possible scenarios for the Netherlands:

  • Global Economy: emphasis on international cooperation and private responsibilities.
  • Strong Europe: emphasis on international cooperation and public responsibilities.
  • Transatlantic Markets: emphasis on national sovereignty and private responsibilities.
  • Regional Communities: emphasis on national sovereignty and public responsibilities.

The study builds on earlier work by CPB (2003, 2004) and RIVM et al (2004, 2005) in which these scenarios were translated into four development paths for the Dutch economy and demography. In the current project, the resulting economic and population scenarios, including their international contexts, were elaborated for application to the built and natural environment. This required both conceptual thought and extensive integrated modeling, e.g. regarding the coherence and consistency of all different aspects of regional economy, internal migration, urbanization, and environmental pollution. The modeling framework generated quantitative indicators to illustrate the scenarios and support the conclusions.

Scenarios should include national policy to be realistic. To allow for statements on the future effects of current government policy and to compare these with alternative policies, trend-based policy is assumed in all scenarios. However, on the long run the four scenario contexts will diverge too much for a uniform policy to be realistic. Consequently, beyond 2020 policies may slightly differ among scenarios, as long as they are plausible and consistent with the scenario logic.