Thousands of farmers throughout the northern region of Belgium drove thousands of tractors into the streets of Brussels on March 4 to protest the government’s climate change and environmental policies, which could result in economic damage to farmers.
Around 2,700 farm vehicles drove from the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders to converge in the capital city for a mass protest over the government’s proposed plan to reduce emissions by cutting the use of nitrogen fertilizer and reducing livestock numbers, according to Farmer’s Weekly. The proposed plan could result in a loss of 20,000 jobs.
The European Commission (EC) seeks to limit nitrogen oxide emissions as the organization claims the colorless gas is a contributing factor to global warming. European leaders also believe that nitrogen losses due to farming on agricultural land lead to a “negative impact on biodiversity and ecosystems.”
In keeping with the continent’s Green Deal pledges to reduce emissions, EC members have adopted a Zero pollution action plan that calls on countries to enact stricter measures against farmers in a bid to curb nitrogen releases.
“It’s an economic and social catastrophe,” Nele Kempeneers, a spokesperson for Belgian farmers’ association Boerenbond, one of the unions that organized the protest, told POLITICO. “A lot of farms will have to limit the amount of animals that they keep, or simply close down.”
Protestors say that planned cuts unfairly place a heavier burdenn on the agriculture sector than the industrial sector. Reuters reported that multiple agricultural organizations say that the government’s proposed nitrogen agreement “will cause a socio-economic carnage,” leading them to push for less destabilizing alternatives.
“We are all convinced that something has to change nitrogen-wise, but the agricultural sector should not be treated differently to the industrial sector,” protester Leen Engelen told Reuters.
“Our sector is already making a lot of effort and is willing to do so as well, but (the government) expects more and more from us while the industry sector is also expanding,” Liesje Van Loon, who owns a goat farm, is quoted by Reuters as saying.
Fox News reported that several major roads in Brussels were closed and recommended that people use public transportation rather than personal vehicles.