Environment minister and activists clash over Belgium's climate goals

Environment minister and activists clash over Belgium's climate goals
Credit: Belga

Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir and Belgian climate activists have clashed over Belgium's climate ambitions.

On Wednesday, Belgium's Youth for Climate group gathered in front of Demir's cabinet office in protest against the minister's decisions made in recent days, relating to Belgium's demand for lower emission reduction goals and its refusal to join a group of countries calling for more ambitions targets.

"It is insulting how a rich country like Belgium shirks its responsibility and tries to block all progress internationally," Belgian climate activist and member of Youth for Climate Anuna De Wever told The Brussels Times.

"Many Belgian politicians completely minimise the climate crisis, both in their words and in their policies, and that has to change. That is why we keep on pushing. There is no alternative."

Earlier this week, it was announced Belgium, due to resistance from Flanders, would not be joining the High Ambition Coalition for COP26, a group of countries urging governments to adopt emissions targets that can keep global warming below 1.5°C.

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The European Union, as well as neighbouring member states such as Germany, France and the Netherlands, endorsed the statement, however, Demir said there was little use in signing what constitutes empty promises.

"The HAC statement literally says 'Halt inefficient fossil fuel subsidies as soon as possible'. How can Belgium sign this with a Federal Government that does just the opposite?" she said.

She added that Flanders "continues to endorse the Paris Agreement," and that it is also fully prepared to make solid efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Ignoring own responsibilities

At the end of last week, Demir argued that Europe should lower the CO2 reduction targets set for Belgium (it needs to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 47% by the year 2030), and that a better balance needs to be found between Eastern and Western Europe.

According to De Wever, comparing Belgium with "countries like Bulgaria and Romania is also just an excuse for not taking up her own responsibility."

"The fact that Flanders was responsible for Belgium arriving at COP26 without a federal agreement and therefore not being able to meet the European targets was already more than shameful. And now Demir also dares to demand that Belgium should do less at the national level?"

The EU measures the national contributions needed against the tools, resources and financial situation of each country to set targets. "Belgium's target should be higher, as we are more responsible for the crisis and have a larger individual carbon footprint," De Wever said.

Meanwhile, despite the Flemish Government agreeing on a climate plan last week, ministers have not yet been able to come to a climate agreement on an overarching federal level, according to Wallonia's Climate minister and president of the National Climate Commission, Philippe Henry.

"Unfortunately, it is not possible to reach a sufficiently ambitious intra-Belgian agreement in the short term on the sharing of efforts in the field of climate policy. There is still too much distance between the ambitions of the two sides," he said on Tuesday.

The various climate ministers met on Tuesday to discuss how the responsibilities to reach the climate targets would be shared between the various governments but failed to come to an agreement, meaning it seems unlikely that a Belgian climate plan will be presented at COP26.

Henry stressed he would report on the situation during the next Consultative Committee, and that technical discussions will continue so "a robust political agreement can be made."

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