Flemish government reaches long-awaited climate agreement

Flemish government reaches long-awaited climate agreement
The climate plan targets petrol and diesel cars, the agricultural sector and houses that aren't energy efficient. Credit: Belga

On Thursday evening, the Flemish Government reached a climate agreement that will target the construction of houses, car emissions and the agricultural sector, following days of debates and discussions.

Time was pressing for the government to come to an agreement as Flemish Environment minister Zuhal Demir threatened that she would not attend the UN Climate Summit in Glasgow (COP26) if additional climate measures were not agreed.

"The Flemish Government has just reached a realistic and ambitious agreement on additional climate measures, with efforts from all sectors," Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon said on Twitter on Thursday evening.

He added that with the package that has been agreed, the region is raising the original ambition of a 35% CO2 reduction by 2030 to 40%. However, this remains below the level required by Europe, which has demanded a reduction of at least 47%. The previous climate plan, which was due to expire at the end of 2019, would have achieved just a 32.6% reduction in CO2 emissions. This had to be adjusted after the European Union increased its ambition to 55%, according to reports from De Standaard.  Among the more than 40 measures agreed on as part of Flanders' climate package are the following:
  • From 2023, all those buying a house with an energy label E or lower will have to make the necessary renovations to increase it to level D within five years of purchase;
  • Hybrid heat pumps (using a combination of renewable energy and fossil fuels to heat a property) will be obligatory for newbuilds starting from 2023.
  • From 2026, natural gas connections will no longer be available for new builds;
  • From 2029, the sale of new passenger cars or vans that run on petrol or diesel will be phased out, meaning electric vehicles will become the norm, if there is a sufficient supply of electric vehicles at an affordable price and if there are a sufficient number of charging stations;
  • All Flemish Government buildings will be renovated by 2030 to cut CO2 emissions by 55%;
  • For the agricultural sector, the bar to reduce emissions has been set 10% higher than originally expected: by 2030, methane emissions must be reduced by 30%. One way to do this is adapting cattle feed so that cows emit less methane through their manure and farts;
  • For the industrial sector, the bar was also increased by 10%. The government will cut subsidies for companies that don't have a climate plan. A natural gas levy will also be introduced. This is expected to generate €45 million which will be used to reduce the energy bills of citizens;
  • Subsidies for fossil fuels in both industries will be discontinued in 2023;
  • Substantial investments (up to €300 million/year) will be made to improve green mobility plans, including bicycle infrastructure.

Political parties respond

While the government has said this plan is ambitious yet realistic, Belgium's political parties are divided about the success the plan will have and are critical of who will end up paying for the reduction of emissions. Vlaams Belang argues that the renovation obligation will make homes even more unaffordable for young families. But the government stressed that interest-free loans of up to €20,000 will be provided for these renovations, on top of existing premiums to help people with these renovation works. The Flemish Green Party Groen agreed that the climate plan shifts the responsibility on citizens by focussing on the renovations of old houses, adding that the plan in itself is not enough to curb the climate crisis. "The EU imposes a 47% non-ETS reduction on our country. Flanders (one of the most prosperous EU regions) remains stuck at 40%," Meyrem Almaci, Groen party leader, said on Twitter.

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Meanwhile, socialist and opposition party PVDA has said the climate plan is a bullying policy. "It makes it mandatory and prohibits ordinary people, opens the subsidy tap to big business and meanwhile avoids any responsibility," Flemish PVDA party leader Jos D'Haese said on Terzake. "While the government is shirking its responsibility, it is passing the bill on to citizens. This elitist climate policy is not only anti-social but also extremely inefficient," he added.

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