Belgian politics is at first glance an indecipherable labyrinth of different levels of governments and laws. But it does not have to be this way! Check back in regularly with The Brussels Times as we try to shine some light on matters.
In an attempt to help the uninitiated navigate such a complex system, we will be speaking regularly with politicians from the regional, national and European level. They will give us a taste of what they do and how their small piece fits into the bigger jigsaw puzzle that is Belgium. If there is a particular topic you would like us to put to those in power, get in touch!
To kick off the new year, we spoke with the Brussels Capital Region’s climate and energy minister, Alain Maron, about what Belgium’s capital is doing to cut greenhouse gas emissions and what everyday citizens can actually do the help the planet.
What are the Brussels government’s priorities on climate change and energy policy?
Mobilise everyone, not just the minister for climate: every minister and every administration must now contribute to the fight against climate change; with the Climate Action Plans or the Renoclick programme, which involves the renovation of public buildings. For the past two years, the region has been implementing a structural collaboration with the municipalities on climate issues. It recognises and supports the contribution of citizens’ collectives in the fight against global warming and in preparing Brussels for the effects of global warming, with numerous projects, such as the “Inspirons le Quartier” call for action.
We have also prioritised the Rénolution and Good Move projects, to reduce direct greenhouse gas emissions, while improving air quality and therefore the health of residents. Another priority is reducing our indirect impact via GoodFood, for example. There is also a focus on nature: many projects have been launched to invest in vegetation and water in the city, particularly in dense neighbourhoods. That includes the Wiels Marsh, Max-sur-Zenne, Quai des Matériaux and Parc de la Sennette.
To what extent is transport actually Brussels’ main climate change concern?
Thermal mobility is responsible for almost a third of our direct greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, vehicles are also responsible for air pollution that Brussels cannot accept, and congestion has a significant cost in terms of quality of life and the economy.
The government has therefore decided at first reading to phase out combustion engines by 2030 (diesel) and 2035 (petrol) – many accompanying measures are in preparation too. That includes deploying solutions that will promote a modal shift (more soft mobility and public transport) and the deployment of charging stations. Brussels is investing massively – more than ever – in public transport.
Climate change has rapidly moved its way up the political agenda and also everyday citizens are more and more concerned with it. Have you noticed that trend also in Brussels?
Yes, we can see that our calls for projects are increasingly successful. Whether it is a question of getting involved in your neighbourhood or in your municipality. Professionals and local authorities are also in demand, notably with the GoodFood call for projects. We also have many requests to make the city more resilient, such as with the Préparons Bruxelles project. The workshops on resilience have been a great success.
How much autonomy does the regional government have to set meaningful climate or energy policies or is it reliant on the federal level to make big changes?
Belgium is a federal state, and the Region is therefore directly competent and autonomous in matters of climate, energy and mobility. There are also binding quantitative targets to help contribute to the Paris Agreement. This is somewhat of a unique situation in Europe and even worldwide, where more and more cities are taking on their responsibilities through major voluntary commitments, but few cities are in the institutional situation of Brussels with binding targets within a federal state.
Brussels is particularly ambitious in its actions and is aware of its exemplary role, being the Capital of Europe. Through its competences, the Region has important levers for direct action, and there is also the climate ordinance, which is just as valid as a federal law. The Region cannot do everything on its own; important levers remain at federal level, such as taxation or product standards. And the Brussels municipalities are a natural support point for the deployment of climate policies at the local level. We must work together.
Does the Brussels government participate in city-level initiatives like the covenant of mayors, is it actually beneficial from a climate action point of view to approach it from this city/regional level?
The Region is a member of several city networks that focus on different themes. For example, for waste policy Brussels is a member of the ACR+ network, for energy policy there is Energy Cities, for climate we have worked with the C40 network and their Thriving Cities Initiative to develop a reference framework on indirect emissions. During COP26, I met with several cities to discuss our issues, including Glasgow and Paris.
Community energy projects could be one of the answers to climate change. Is Brussels well set up to embrace that, how will the government support those efforts?
The Brussels-Capital Region is a pioneer in this field, with four pilot projects of energy communities already active and the forthcoming adoption of the revision of the electricity ordinance will provide a legal framework for energy communities. The Region has also made a one-stop shop, a type of facilitator, for project developers, which has been available since 1 January. We are also continuing to support renewable energies through green certificates.
If you could snap your fingers and one of your climate or energy policies was immediately implemented, which would it be?
All Brussels roofs renovated! Well insulated and equipped with photovoltaic panels.
Tackling climate change is also about personal responsibility, what’s one thing you would encourage Brussels residents to do or change in their day-to-day lives?
I would encourage the people of Brussels to work on their diet. As much as possible, they should choose local, healthy, organic and seasonal food. Meat consumption can also be reduced. There are a lot of great vegetarian recipes out there!