Flanders blocks Belgium from calling for more EU climate ambition

Flanders blocks Belgium from calling for more EU climate ambition
Flemish Environment Minister Zuhal Demir. Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga

Belgium is not backing a call by over ten EU countries to speed up Europe's climate ambitions now that the war in Ukraine has underlined the bloc's dependence on Russian fossil fuel, because Flanders is not in favour.

More than ten EU countries are calling to reduce the bloc's gas consumption by at least 30% by 2030, and to put pressure on the European negotiators to reduce the collective CO2 emissions by at least 55% by that year. The letter underlines that this is the only way to completely stop the import of Russian gas as soon as possible.

"Given the exceptional situation, negotiations must be sped up and ambitions increased," they wrote in a letter, which is an initiative on the margins of the 'Fit for 55' package, the series of proposals by the European Commission to further tighten its climate targets.

The initiative was led by Denmark. The others signatories are Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Spain, Ireland, Latvia, Slovenia, Finland, Austria and Sweden.

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Belgium's two Green Party Ministers for the Climate (Zakia Khattabi of the Francophone Ecolo) and Energy (Tinne Vanderstraeten of the Flemish Groen) would have liked to join those countries, reportedly along with the cabinet of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo of the Flemish liberal Open Vld party, reports De Standaard.

To take a common position at the EU level, however, Belgium needs unanimity at all policy levels. But for Flanders, Environment Minister Demir does not agree with the contents of the letter and does not want to join – meaning there will be no Belgian signature.

In a Facebook post on Monday, she explained that she does not agree with the demand to expand the European ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) to become climate neutral more quickly.

"Naturally, Flanders fully supports independence from Russian gas as quickly as possible. This has been stated in our Flemish Energy and Climate Plan since 2019," Demir said. "At the same time, in the same text, the authors demand that all the measures in the 'Fit For 55' package be implemented more quickly."

'Demir is misrepresenting results'

According to her, that would mean a measure that would increase the energy bill of an average household "by at least €460 per year. But also the further subsidising of large-scale biomass, of which forests are often the victims. That is why Flanders has been critical in the past."

"Under the guise of less Russian gas, trying to force things like the expansion of the European ETS system down our throats? That is not very nice," Demir said. She stressed the importance of becoming independent from Russian gas as soon as possible, but not at the cost of higher bills.

Still, she underlined that she would "sign the first text that does not link the two."

However, an expert of Khattabi's cabinet criticises Demir's argument. "That study does not take into account the reduced energy consumption that is precisely the intention, nor the fact that the income from the ETS can flow back to the families. The researchers themselves indicated that Minister Demir is misrepresenting their results," he told De Morgen.

"Therefore, it is frustrating for Climate Minister Khattabi that Minister Demir is preventing Belgium from supporting this important position without a good substantive reason," he added. "It is also not the case that this text calls for every Member State to demand climate neutrality by 2050."

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