System merits or failures? Policies for transition to sustainable P and N systems in the Netherlands and Finland

Thomas Hoppe*, Anna Kuokkanen, Mirja Mikkilä, Helena Kahiluoto, Miia Kuisma, Maarten Arentsen, Lassi Linnanen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
134 Downloads (Pure)


Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) cycles are absolutely vital in maintaining sustainable food systems. Human activities disturb the natural balance of these cycles by creating enormous additional nutrient fluxes, causing eutrophication of waterways and pollution in land systems. To tackle this problem, sustainable nutrient management is required. This paper addresses sustainable nutrient management in two countries: The Netherlands and Finland. We adopt a critical perspective on resource politics, especially towards opportunistic policy strategies for the pollutant management of N and P. Two research questions are considered. First, what are the key systemic and policy failures that occurred in the N and P systems in the Netherlands and Finland between 1970 and 2015? And second, which lessons can be drawn when addressing the policy responses in the two countries to cope with these failures? The cases are analyzed within Weber and Rohracher's framework that addresses "failures" preventing sustainable transitions. The results show that a number of failures occurred, besides market failures (over-exploitation of the commons, externalization of costs): lack of directionality, policy coordination, institutions, capabilities, infrastructure, demand articulation, and reflexivity. Policy responses in both countries resulted in ponderous policy frameworks that were adequate to tackle nutrient problems from the industrial sector and municipalities. However, both countries provided only a moderate response in terms of system-wide integrated policy frameworks to cope with sectoral-transcending issues. The agricultural use of N and P, in contrast to detergents, has not been subjected to strong regulatory measures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number463
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Environmental policy
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Policy failure
  • Sustainable transition


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