Belgium

   

Environmental Policies

#26
Key Findings
Inefficient and fragmented strategies place Belgium in the lower-middle ranks internationally (rank 26) in terms of environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

The government’s climate policy has been largely ineffective. The 2009 – 2012 National Climate Plan remains current policy, while the National Energy-Climate Plan 2021 – 2030 had not been finalized despite a 2019 deadline. Air pollution in urban areas is a serious problem.

Much policy is left to the regions. This has led to some ambitious, though often uncoordinated projects, such as the Brussels plan to ban fossil-fuel-burning cars by 2035, without a plan for electricity production or sufficient intercity transport. By contrast, the new Flemish government has been accused of effectively withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.

Air quality is below the EU average, exacerbated by high levels of road traffic. Environmental demonstrations and activists have been met with distain by high-level politicians, or subject to police repression.

Environment

#22

How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?

10
 9

Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.
 2
 1

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
Environmental Policy
6
Young people are at the forefront of future climate change initiatives in Belgium. A wave of weekly demonstrations initiated by “climate express” and “coalition climate,” and supported by young students propelled environmental concerns to the top of the recent election debates. Climate experts’ policy proposals made the headlines for weeks. Yet, the government’s climate policy remains relatively ineffective, largely due to historical political tensions and institutional arrangements. At the time of writing, November 2019, the government’s dedicated climate website continued to state that the 2009 – 2012 National Climate Plan was current government policy. At the request of the European Commission, the government started a new initiative the National Energy-Climate Plan 2021 – 2030. However, the initiative had still not been finalized at the time of writing. Though the initiative is due to be submitted to the European Commission at the end of 2019.

Nevertheless, federal delays have not prevented local initiatives. Though local initiatives sometimes contradict one another and there remains a need to develop a coherent policy with concrete and implementable steps. Belgium’s environmental policy is split between the federal government and the three regions (not counting the possibility of each municipality to set up its own additional rules). This makes it almost impossible to coordinate the different facets of a green transition. Hopefully, European regulations will eventually force the country to improve its approach.

Positive evolutions include the Michel government’s decision to slash tax deductions for company cars, which should have a visible effect as of 2021. The other initiatives are located at the regional level, but remain difficult to coordinate or roll out. For instance, the Brussels region announced a plan to ban fossil fuel cars between 2030 – 2035. Though there is just no strategy for the future of electricity production, nor is there a sufficient budget to improve intercity transport. Meanwhile, Flemish climate expert Pieter Leroy accuses the new Flemish government of effectively withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. Flanders’ new government agreement seems to primarily focus on housing. In parallel, it will invest in an enhanced ring around Antwerp to facilitate car traffic. Wallonia, on its side, has just appointed a Green Party representative as minister for the environment and wants to commit to an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The concrete details of the policy are far from clear, however. Significant improvements in water treatment and forest management have been recorded in all regions.

Such initiatives, if they work, should improve air quality, which is currently below the OECD average. 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).”

Car traffic is unlikely to decrease in the short term. In its latest Traffic Index, TomTom identified Brussels as the fifth most congested city in Western Europe (out of 185 cities), on par with London. One contributing issue is of course Belgium’s geographical location, which makes it a dense transit area, especially for road traffic.

Citations:
References:
www.climat.be
https://plus.lesoir.be/187104/article/2018-10-29/anvers-parmi-les-regions-les- plus-polluees-du-monde
https://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20191018_04670928
https://plus.lesoir.be/art/d-20191007-3WHYYK
https://www.lalibre.be/economie/decideurs-chroniqueurs/le-nombre-de-voitures-de-societe-diminuera-sensiblement-au-cours-des-prochaines-annees-5d94a66ff20d5a2781473b3b
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-nationa l-climat/
National Energy-Climate Plan: https://www.plannationalenergieclimat.be/fr
TomTom (2019). https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/ranking/?country=AT,BE,FR,DE,LU,NL,CH,DK,FI,GR,IS,IE,IT,PT,ES,SE,UK

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

#26

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, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced 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 contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced 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 federal government seems to have taken a backseat role in that process. In the 2009 – 2014 federal government, the minister of sustainable development portfolio was held by the minister of finance. In the Michel government, the minister for energy and the environment had never worked on energy or environmental matters before taking the position.

It should thus come as no surprise that the main demonstrations in favor of a more active environmental policy have been met with disdain by key political figures or with police repression. For instance, the Flemish minister for environmental policy had to resign after having expressed a suspicion that some young activists were effectively acting as destabilizing agents for foreign secret services. As a reaction, the May 2019 elections have brought green parties to the forefront in Brussels and Wallonia, but less so in Flanders which has selected a largely eco-skeptic minister for environmental policy.
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