Belgium

   

Environmental Policies

#24
Key Findings
Inefficient and fragmented strategies place Belgium in the lower-middle ranks internationally (rank 24) in terms of environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

Environmental quality overall is slightly below the OECD average. A government effort to develop a climate policy has been delayed through much of this decade, with the next version of the plan now focusing on the 2021  2030 period. Air pollution in urban areas is a serious problem.

Regional environmental policies offer hope of improvements, but hamper national-level coordination.
The country’s role as a European traffic crossroads has left vehicular traffic at a high level, exacerbating carbon emissions.

Increasing attention is being paid to biodiversity, but the dense urbanization particularly in the north offers little room for short-term improvement. The country has not played a significant role in developing international environmental regimes.

Environment

#17

How effectively does environmental policy protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment?

10
 9

Environmental policy effectively protects, preserves and enhances the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy largely protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy insufficiently protects and preserves the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
 2
 1

Environmental policy has largely failed to protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and quality of the environment.
Environmental Policy
6
The Belgian government has established a climate-policy website (www.climat.be) on which the authorities themselves concede that the country’s environmental policy is “rather complicated” given the unique policymaking arrangements. Belgium’s environmental policy is split between the federal government and the three regions, which makes it largely unmanageable. As of November 2017, the website proudly detailed the progress made between 2008 and 2012, but concluded that the government gave up trying to elaborate a plan for the 2013 – 2020 period in order to “focus on the 2021 – 2030 period.” Hopefully, European regulations will force the country to improve its policy approach.

Generally speaking, environmental quality is below the OECD average and the country’s two main cities, Antwerp and Brussels, are among cities in the OECD suffering most from air pollution. As in other Belgian urban areas, there are multiple sources of pollution, but the largest contributors are heavy industry, activities around the harbor in Antwerp and extremely dense road congestion in urban areas.

The European Environmental Agency’s report indicates that significant forms of air pollution (i.e., particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and sulfur dioxide have improved, but that a high percentage of the Belgian population is still exposed to excessive concentrations of the four most important air pollutants (PM, NO2, O3 and SO2) .” One of the main contributors to this situation has been the country’s incapacity to coordinate any form of effective transportation policy, resulting in the consistent decline in the performance of the National Railways Company and increasingly long traffic jams.

The hope is that regional initiatives will eventually produce improvements. The local, bottom-up nature of these projects means that it is hard to see a general pattern or a well-defined policy direction – especially around the larger Brussels area that spans three institutional regions (Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia). However, regional initiatives may also produce better results in the long term if these projects are able to achieve their aspirations and increase the general public’s awareness of environmental issues.

Car traffic is unlikely to decrease in the short term. Belgium’s geographical location between the major northwestern European economic and population basins (i.e., the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and Germany) makes it an extremely dense transit area, especially for road traffic (cars as well as freight). The government has introduced a controversial per-kilometer tax on trucks, but the main objective this policy is to shift some of the tax burden away from labor, not to reduce traffic. Besides, labor legislation still enables a very generous scheme of “company cars” (extra income in the form of a car covered by the company) in the private sector. This is a major incentive for workers to continue using cars to commute to work and for various other short-distance journeys. Congestion in and around major cities therefore remains high. Brussels, for instance, now ranks as the fifth most-congested city in Western Europe, according to the TomTom Traffic Index.

Significant improvements in water treatment have been recorded in all regions after Belgium was taken to court by the European Commission for failing to implement its international commitments. Implementation in this area has become a regional prerogative.

The regions are now responsible for maintaining forests and biodiversity. Overall, forest management is proactive, with a view toward long-term sustainability. Increasing attention is given to the issue of biodiversity, but Belgium’s highly urbanized nature, especially in the northern portions of the country, provides limited room for short-term improvement in areas of dense construction.

Citations:
References:
https://plus.lesoir.be/187104/article/2018-10-29/anvers-parmi-les-regions-les-plus-polluees-du-monde
OECD (2016): http://www.oecd.org/tax/tax-policy/environmental-tax-profile-belgium.pdf
http://www.climat.be/fr-be/politiques/politique-belge/politique-nationale/plan-national-climat/
TomTom (2017). “TomTom European Traffic Index. Measuring congestion worldwide.” https://www.tomtom.com/en_us/trafficindex/city/BRU

European Environment Agency (2017).
https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/country-fact-sheets/belgium
https://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/countries/belgium

OECD
http://www.oecd.org/belgium/environmental-tax-profile-belgium.pdf
http://www.oecd.org/eco/surveys/Belgium-2017-OECD-economic-survey-overview.pdf

European Commission (2015): http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/water-framework/pdf/4th_report/MS%20Annex% 20-%20Belgium.pdf

Global Environmental Protection

#28

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, fosters their advancement and initiates appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally fosters their advancement or initiates appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but neither fosters their advancement nor initiates appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
4
Global efforts to foster environmental protection are coordinated by the European Commission, and the Belgian government seems to prefer a backseat role in that process. In the previous government, the minister of sustainable development portfolio was held by the minister of finance. In the present government, the minister for energy and the environment had never worked on energy or environmental matters before taking the position. Belgium has not sought or assumed a proactive role in the design and advancement of global environmental-protection schemes – especially since several aspects of environmental-protection policy have now been devolved to the regions, which leads to frequent difficulties in the formulation of a clear Belgian (federal/national) position.
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