The Paris Climate Agreement1 calls for the development of long-term, low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. At European level, regulatory and legislative provisions are being devised, which will provide the framework for an energy and climate policy for the coming decades. At the heart of this all is the new regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union2, which lays down a set of rules on the contents, format, monitoring, evaluation, and adjustment mechanism of the Integrated National Energy-Climate Plans and Low-Emission Long-Term Strategies. These plans and strategies will have to be drawn up by each Member State and submitted to the European Commission at the end of 2018 and end of 2019, respectively. Belgium just adopted an Energy-Climate Plan recently that will be decisive for actions to be taken on climate and energy in the coming years.
Fragmentation of climate competences
Climate change is a cross-cutting topic and goes beyond the environment in the strict sense. A climate policy is therefore integrated into transport, taxation, energy, environment and other policies. Because Belgium is a federal state composed of three communities (the Flemish, French, and German-speaking Communities) and three regions (the Flemish Region, Walloon Region, and Brussels-Capital Region) it has interlocking competencies between the different levels of authorities. This complex distribution of legislative powers requires close coordination structures between the various authorities responsible.
The federal state ensures the country’s compliance with the EU principles of the free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital, and with the EU regulatory framework. It is also the federal authority that assumes all the responsibilities of Belgium and its federal entities under the scopes of EU and international laws. In this context, the possibility for the federal state to replace any federal entity, should any of them fail compliance, has been extended to obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or under one of its protocols, and under any EU law that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, it is also responsible for all matters that do not expressly fall within the powers of the individual communities and regions.
Each of the three regions have more directly related competences: they are, for instance, responsible for air and soil protection, nature protection and conservation, water protection and distribution, distribution and local transmission of electricity through networks with a nominal voltage of 70,000 volts or less3, distribution tariffs (gas and electricity), public gas distribution, motorways, inland waterways, ports, regional airports, public and school transport, vehicle taxation, etc.
Federal laws sets out how the various responsible authorities should cooperate with each other on this subject. Article 92bis of the Special Act on Institutional Reform empowers the various local authorities to conclude cooperation agreements on the joint exercise of their own powers. General climate governance in Belgium is done through such agreements.
The cooperation agreement of 14 November 20024 created the National Climate Commission (la Commission nationale Climat or CNC) in order to develop national plans and propose draft cooperation agreements to the Concertation Committee5. More generally, the CNC is responsible for internal coordination, monitoring and evaluation of the National Climate Plan and the proper implementation of European and international reporting obligations. It is composed of representatives of the federal government and the three regions.
Current legal framework – Energy & Climate Plans
At regional level, in the Walloon Region, the Walloon Climate Decree of 20 February 2014 sets the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets at a reduction of 30% CO2 by 2020 and 80 to 95% CO2 by 2050. This Decree also indicates the instruments that would be implemented to achieve these objectives, including the Air Climate Energy Plan, which is to be developed by the Walloon Air and Climate Agency, in consultation with the Walloon Government. The draft Walloon Air Climate Energy 2030 plan was approved on 19 July 2018, with the objective of reducing its emissions by 35,9% by 2030.
In the Brussels-Capital region, the Brussels Code of Air, Climate and Energy Management dated 2 May 2013 pursues a number of objectives ranging from the integration of the regional air, climate, and energy policies and the reduction of the dependence on non-renewable energy sources to the improvement of energy performance of buildings and the reduction of environmental impacts resulting from mobility needs. On the basis of this Brussels Code, the Brussels Government adopted an Air-Climate Regional Plan on 12 July 2018, with the objective of reducing its emissions by 32% by 2030.
In the Flemish region, the Flemish Government adopted the Flemish Climate and Energy Pact on 1 December 2016 in which it endorses the text of the Paris Climate Agreement and recognizes the need to limit the global temperature increase to well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, and to make efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. The Flemish Government supports the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and by 80 to 95% by 2050 (compared to 1990). In this context, the draft Flemish Climate Policy Plan 2021-2030 and the draft Flemish Energy Plan 2021-2030 were approved by the Flemish Government on 21 July 2018, with the objective of reducing its emissions by 35% by 2030.
On the basis of these three regional Energy & Climate Plans, the Concertation Committee adopted the first version of the National Energy & Climate Plan on 19 December 2018, which is a compilation of the three regional plans and which will be submitted to the European Commission and subject to public and stakeholder consultation.
A federal climate law?
In Belgium, several voices are being raised in favor of adopting a federal climate law that would set a long-term goal for the country as a whole, adopt coherent carbon budgets, provide for the automation of certain technical decisions, in order to free them from the agony of permanent negotiation, provide for a climate-specific standstill obligation, and create an independent body, with a substantial budget, capable of producing data and opinions and also of carrying out an external audit to remove the climate issue from political contingencies alone6
- Adopted in the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise in this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.
- Proposal of the European Commission for a Regulation of the European parliament and of the council on the Governance of the Energy Union dated 30 November 2016 (See: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-strategy-and-energy-union/governance-energy-union).
- The federal authority is responsible for the transmission of electricity through the high-voltage grid (above 70,000 volts).
- Cooperation Agreement of 14 November 2002 between the Federal State, the Flemish Region, the Walloon Region and the Brussels-Capital Region on the preparation, implementation and monitoring of a National Climate Plan, as well as on the preparation of reports, within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.
- The Concertation Committee is composed of ministers from the federal government and the governments of the Communities and Regions. This assembly debates the various issues (not only climate change) which, in the context of good governance, require collaboration between the different levels of power and must be verified with regard to the different competences.
- See the reports on the academic reflection on climate governance in Belgium in November 2018: https://www.climat.be/fr-be/politiques/politique-belge/politique-nationale/gouvernance-climatique
This article was co-written by Raphaëlle Godts in her capacity as an associate at Stibbe.