The Paris Agreement binds countries to align their targets to scientific evidence given its objective of limiting global warming to well below 2°C, and preferably 1.5°C, which is the currently agreed upon “safe” limit of climate change. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are asked to define their efforts – represented by their respective National Determined Contributions (NDCs) – in order to respect this limit.
Yet, however, today, government pledges across the globe are still woefully inadequate. According to the UN, the current NDCs of states currently put us on track for more than 2.7°C of warming.
While being a step into the right direction, Europe’s NDC target of reducing emissions to at least 55%” net below 1990 levels by 2030 is still not enough to make the EU compatible with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C goal. A reduction of at least 65% would be needed to do so.
Belgium and its regions must therefore be more ambitious in order to align its emission reduction targets to the 1.5°C target of the Paris agreement, which Belgium has ratified.
Climate change is a global issue: it will not be solved anywhere, until it is solved everywhere. Also, while GHG emissions produced in Belgium are decreasing, our actions as Belgian citizens are also causing GHG productions in other countries. So countries must take actions individually as well as work together to achieve the Paris Agreement.
International discussions and negotiations on climate change are long and complex processes. Belgium is ideally placed to take a leadership role on this issue: we are a small country, with less vested interests than some larger nations, we are at the heart of Europe, and we have a long tradition of negotiation and compromise.
Belgium should make climate change a cornerstone of its foreign policy agenda, be a trusted discussion partner in international climate change negotiations and take an ambitious leadership role. We also can, and must, leverage on two key Belgian bodies: the CCIEP (Coordination Committee for International Environmental Policy) and the upcoming Belgian Centre of Excellence for Climate. Together, those two bodies provide the resources and knowledge to support Belgium taking a central role in international negotiations.
The Walloon and Brussels Regions have both passed climate laws, providing a legal framework for their climate targets. This has not yet happened in Flanders or at the Federal level.
Create Belgian and Flemish Climate laws, legally committing the governments of both jurisdictions.
(1) Ensure that Climate laws are based on the latest scientific evidence, and allow for future changes as the science evolves.
(2) Ensure that Climate laws provide a framework to define and assess reduction targets at a sectoral level (that is in each sector of the economy), by specifying the scope, flexibility in the distribution of efforts, timeframe and expected outcome of those measures.
(3) Under the Federal Climate Law, stipulate that the sum of all targets and efforts set at regional and federal level must always equal Belgium’s commitments under the Paris Accord.
The responsibility of measuring and recording carbon emissions and reductions lie with the regions (Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia). Those report their data to IRCEL-CELINE who then prepares aggregated reports for Belgium as a whole. However, currently regions count their emissions in different ways: in other words we are counting apples and pears.
Under a new Federal Climate law, set out a harmonized carbon accounting system to measure and record GHG emissions and reductions. This carbon accounting system should be aligned with best practices at European level and as defined by the UNFCCC.
Following this, strengthen the mandate of the National Climate Commission to work towards implementing a harmonized carbon accounting across all Belgian regions. Strengthen also the collaboration between the CCIEP’s working group on emissions data and the National Climate Commission.
Objectives for emission reductions over a certain time period (for example, to reduce GHG emissions by 20%, based on 1990 levels, by 2020) are defined for Belgium as a whole through international negotiations. The next step is for the different levels of governments to agree on what that single Belgian objective means for each region in our country, this is called ‘burden-sharing’.
The negotiations on ‘burden-sharing’ between different Belgian regions can take a very long time. It sometimes takes so long, that Belgian regions end up agreeing just months before the end of the period defined for the objectives. There is also no set process or methodology to agree on how to share the burden of the Belgian objective between the different regions.
Since 2020, the German-speaking Community takes on 2.2% of the Walloon climate targets. It is an allocation key that will be reviewed every 10 years in function of the actual emissions, the energy consumption and the demography. Such allocation key for burden-sharing should be established for the regions and the federal government so that the objectives that Belgium commits to at the European level or through the UNFCCC can be immediately translated into regional objectives without a lengthy negotiation process.
In addition to allocation keys, a calendar should be established for regions and the federal level to agree on objectives. If regions and the federal level fail to agree by the set date, federal government should then assign burden-sharing based on defined allocation keys.
It is currently complex to understand how well Belgium, both at the federal and regional levels, is doing against its commitments. Every citizen should have access to answers to simple questions such as: what are our objectives? How well are we doing? How much effort remains to be done? What is the timeline for our objectives?
Climate laws should require all governance levels to provide transparent, intelligible, updated and straightforward communication about their objectives, their GHG emissions and reductions and the progress against their commitments.
This should be communicated unambiguously in the National Energy and Climate Plans, but should also be easily available for all citizens. This can be done by implementing a real-time Progress tracker on platforms such as www.climat.be / www.klimaat.be in a centralized manner for all levels of governments.
How do we know which political party’s manifesto offers the best chance to achieve our commitments under the Paris Accord? The short answer is: we don’t. And so, it is difficult for citizens to make decisions and it means that politicians may not have an incentive to design a political programme that does achieve our commitments.
In 2019, for the first time and ahead of the elections for the federal parliament, the Federal Planning Bureau assessed the financial impact of each political party’s most important proposals (thanks to a 2014 law). This is meant to help citizens understand what political party’s proposals mean for the federal budget and make an informed choice.
The mandate of the Federal Planning Bureau should be expanded to include an assessment of the impact of each political party’s programme on our GHG emissions reduction objectives. Such a ‘Climate Test’ would determine the percentage of GHG that would be emitted or reduced (compared to a baseline) by 2030 or 2050 if a political party’s manifesto were to be implemented, and hence, whether we are more or less likely to achieve our commitments under the Paris Accord.
Likewise, the mandate of the Federal Planning Bureau should be expanded to include the possibility for the Bureau to assess bills to be debated in Parliament with respect to their impact on our emissions reductions objectives in a similar ‘Climate test’. This should support parliamentarians understanding whether a specific bill is more or less likely to help us achieve our commitments under the Paris Accord.
Currently, there is little or no assessment and evaluation of our efforts against climate change. Evaluation, and audit, are useful as they allow us to understand if our policies are working, and learn the lessons if they do not. Audits can also ensure that our carbon accounting and reporting is done well. This is important as knowing how much GHG we emit, and how much we reduce, is the basis for all of our climate policies and carbon accounting can be complex.
The mandate of the Court of Audit should be expanded to include auditing carbon measurements, accounting and reporting (currently done by the regions and aggregated by IRCEL-CELINE). It should also include the possibility for the Court of Audit to assess the effectiveness, and efficiency, of regional and federal policies to reduce emissions. Those reports should be made public and debated in the federal and regional parliaments.
Finally, in addition to mitigation measures and meeting reduction targets to limit global warming to 1.5°C, it is also vital to draw up an adaptation framework as we know that climate will change.
For Flanders, the VMM Climate Portal charts the consequences of climate change (heat, flooding, drought and rising sea levels) in great detail. In this way, climate adaptation can be specifically addressed at the location in question, and planning can be made towards 2030, 2050 and 2100 to avoid disasters.
Wallonia and the Brussels Capital Region lack a similar portal. Let the RMI, the Royal Meteorological Institute, which collects meteorological data and forecasts the weather for all of Belgium, formulate and map Belgian climate scenarios, and set up a Walloon and Brussels portal from there. Mitigation and adaptation thus go hand in hand.