Oeco: ‘Belgium not on track to meet sustainable development targets’
According to the newest Oeco report about the environmental and climate policy, Belgium is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Harmful emissions and energy consumption decreased during the past ten years. Still, Belgium’s performance remains insufficient to stop biodiversity loss and alleviate the growing pressure of demographic development, urbanization, and agricultural practices.
Belgium has many endangered species, and the situation has worsened over the past decade. Land take, landscape fragmentation, and intensive agriculture are the main causes. Belgium will have to align its biodiversity policy objectives with the new EU strategy’s more ambitious biodiversity objectives by 2030.
Transport and heating
Regions have taken spatial planning policy measures to stop land taking by 2040. The confinement linked to the corona crisis recalled the importance of access to nature for the population’s well-being.
Greenhouse gas emissions decreased between 2005 and 2014 and have stabilized since. Emissions of road traffic went up between 2013 and 2018 due to the growing number of cars and the increased kilometers driven. Air pollution from transport and heating remains a health issue in Belgium. Today, about 93% of Belgian citizens are exposed to particle concentrations (PM2.5) exceeding the standards.
Water quality is poor. The intensive use of nutrients and pesticides in agriculture is the most important source of pollution. Oil, gas, and nuclear dominate the energy mix. The use of renewable energy has increased.
Still, Belgium is not on track to meet its 2020 targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency. Further efforts will be necessary to meet the more stringent targets adopted by the European Union for 2030 to achieve climate neutrality. Phasing out nuclear energy by 2025 requires major investment in power generation, cross-border interconnections, smart grids, and storage.
The fragmentation of competencies and the lack of an independent coordinating organization hamper the development of a shared long-term vision. Each region plans and implements its own policy, Oeco says.
However, federal and regional authorities should adopt common positions, exchange good practices, and develop and share a long-term vision to achieve the 2030 climate targets. Together, they should be more effective in several areas, such as climate change, water resources management, waste management, and circular economy.
Waste management and circular economy policies have been strong but not strong enough. Regions have used effective mixes of policy instruments to achieve and maintain high levels of incineration, recycling, and composting for municipal solid waste and eliminating nearly all landfilling. However, Belgium will have to turn existing and planned initiatives on the circular economy into stronger results, including reductions in material consumption and material and carbon footprints.
Still, according to the Oeco report, monitoring and inspection improved in recent years. But enforcement must be more effective. Belgian regions should continue to reduce non-compliance by expanding the application of administrative fines that can be imposed without prosecution and by improving the collection of monetary penalties.
As the Covid-19 emergency passes, the federal and regional governments should develop a coordinated recovery plan with ambitious climate and environmental targets. The Oeco pleads to opt for ‘green growth’ as soon as the pandemic is under control. “Priority must be given to investments in natural and carbon-free infrastructure, the promotion of circular economy, and the phasing out of environmentally unfriendly subsidies.”
Finally, the Oeco proposes introducing a carbon tax, kilometer tax, and the accelerated renovation of buildings. But first, inter-federal cooperation must be brought back to life. According to Oeco, the lack of coherence and a shared long-term vision, and the fragmentation of competencies are the most important obstacles.