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New Belgian federal government’s sustainability policy priorities

After 493 days of negotiations between the political parties in Belgium since the elections in May 2019, the new federal government of the Kingdom of Belgium was sworn in on 1 October 2020 with Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) appointed as new Prime Minister. With a clear difference in engagement compared to Charles Michel’s so-called ‘Swedish coalition”, sustainability – together with employment and solidarity – is one of the key themes in the new coalition agreement, which confirms full commitment to the climate ambitions of the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal. The ambition is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and make Belgium climate neutral by 2050.

Another urgent focus of the new government will be addressing the corona crisis and the path to economic recovery by transitioning into a more sustainable economic model. The “Government De Croo” sets out investments and new policies in line with the goals of the European Green Deal, however, it often remains unclear how the goals will be achieved in practice.

Renewable energy sources 

The new Belgian federal government proposes to invest more in the development of renewable energy sources, in particular in wind and solar energy, i.e. by exploring potential additional capacity for offshore wind in the Belgian North Sea. However, environmental organizations already raised their concerns about the lack of measures that would protect nature reserves in the North Sea in case economic activities would be exploited in the area. Additionally, in their pursuit of climate neutrality, public companies are encouraged to develop their own sustainable energy supplies and to gradually replace polluting sources, including nuclear energy.

Sustainable transport 

Railway is within the competency of the federal government, where additional investments are expected with the ambition to create more efficient and faster international (night) train connections to major European cities and consequently make Brussels a truly international train hub. The government is also aiming to double the freight traffic by 2030. In consultation with the regions, the government will put forward proposals on the uptake of zero-emission vehicles (subject to the availability of such affordable vehicles on the Belgian market) including an obligation on zero-emission company vehicles by 2026. Also, together with the regions, this government will strive for an ambitious modal shift and the promotion of Mobility-as-a-Service with a view to a significantly increase the share of sustainable mobility modes.

Circular economy 

The new government – in consultation with the regions – will develop a federal circular economy action plan to significantly reduce the use of raw materials and the material footprint in production and consumption. The federal government will also set best practices and include the principle of a circular economy in its public tenders. In line with the ambitions of the European Green Deal, the Belgian government will also promote reduction of waste, reuse and recycling.

Biodiversity 

To improve the negative impact on the biodiversity, the new federal government will investigate the impact of the ban of certain plastics and push to harmonize these standards at the European level. Furthermore, the government will realize an ambitious reduction plan for pesticides with special attention for Belgian (agricultural) companies in order to avoid any competitive disadvantage. In general, the new government seems to align the national biodiversity strategy much more with the European biodiversity strategy.

Recovery 

The new government is investing €3.2 billion in new policies, out of which  €2.3 billion will be earmarked for social policy. €1 billion is reserved for relaunching the economy following the corona crisis, including investment in a new economy (e.g. more energy-efficient government buildings, the development of the use of sustainable accumulators and batteries, improvement and intensification of freight transport by rail and inland waterways). Furthermore, spin-offs that have a positive effect on sustainable development, more specifically on renewable energy, insulation of buildings, climate-friendly technologies, but also in the field of digitization and mobility will be set as priorities. Further details are set to be announced in the coming weeks and months.

Conclusion 

The new Belgian federal government has without doubt set out ambitious goals to achieve a more sustainable and circular economy for the coming years. Together with the recovery plan following the COVID-19 crisis, this provides new opportunities but also poses challenges for companies to adopt their operational and business environments. It is therefore crucial to stay up-to-date with the latest developments and understand when is the right momentum to proactive influence the political agenda.

Dr2 Consultants offers comprehensive Public Affairs support for companies and organizations that are impacted by Belgian policies – either at federal or at regional level. Furthermore, registration is still possible for our dedicated online Belgian Public Affairs training on 16 October 2020 that will provide participants with the opportunity to have a deeper look at the new priorities of the federal and regional governments.