Environment

The environment is one of the five pillars of Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is also playing an increasingly central role within the United Nations. Below is a brief introduction to this policy theme.

Climate

In 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed upon at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. The purpose of this UN climate treaty is to combat climate change related to the greenhouse effect that is strengthened by human activity.
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The ultimate aim of the Convention is to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at such a level that no dangerous interference with the climate system will occur. Belgium ratified the Convention on 16 January 1996. In 1997, the Framework Convention was supplemented by the Kyoto Protocol, which contains quantitative reduction targets for developed countries.

More information on climate change and the UN climate convention is available here: FOD Leefmilieu.

The adoption of the Paris Agreement has been a major milestone for this convention.

The Paris Agreement entered into force in 2016 and at the global level it was complemented by a multilateral regulatory framework that was fully finalised at COP26 in Glasgow. 

All parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have made commitments, such as developing national programmes to combat climate change, carrying out research on new technologies, cooperating in the preparation of adaptations to the impacts of climate change, reporting, etc.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries have targets that are assessed every 5 years. In the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow, the EU and its Member States submitted an increased target of at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990. This increased target is elaborated under the European 'Fit for 55' package.

Moreover, developed countries such as Belgium have the obligation to support developing countries in complying with their commitments under the climate convention.

Belgian development cooperation, among others, is deploying efforts in this regard, for which it can count on scientific support. The KLIMOS research group has been providing this support for many years by means of training courses and the development of a toolkit for the integration of environmental aspects within Belgian development cooperation. Recently, a new research group was launched that will support the DGD for the theme of climate and safety.

Climate is closely associated with other environmental themes such as biodiversity and desertification. This interplay of environmental aspects is clearly illustrated where forests are concerned.

Paris Climate Agreement

On 12 December 2015, all 195 UN Member States rallied behind an ambitious climate agreement in Paris. But what exactly does it say? And can we really combat global warming now?

The so-called Paris Agreement is the very first universal, legally binding climate agreement. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, it sets climate targets for all countries.

Key elements

Triple objective

  • Limit global warming to well below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial level. If possible, even to 1.5°C.
  • Increase countries' ability to adapt to the impact of climate change. Strive for climate-resilient countries with low greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Seek investments at a level which is consistent for achieving these objectives.

Limiting emissions

  • To meet the 2°C/1.5°C target, global emissions of greenhouse gases must peak 'as soon as possible'. Developing countries get a little more respite.
  • After the peak, emissions must decrease rapidly, in line with scientific insights on the 2°C/1.5°C target. The desired target is a carbon-neutral world in the second half of this century, i.e. emitting not more carbon as is captured and stored.
  • Countries must review their national contributions to reducing emissions in 2020, i.e. formulating new targets or updating existing ones.

Legally binding

  • The Paris Agreement is binding. After ratification ('ratification'), it becomes national legislation for countries that subscribe to the agreement.
  • Each Member State has an obligation to communicate and maintain national contributions in order to reduce its emissions.

Transparency and 5-year revisions

  • Member States agree to enhance their targets every 5 years on the basis of new scientific insights.
  • Member States inform each other and the public about the progress of their climate actions.
  • robust system for transparency and accountability closely monitors progress towards the 2°C/1.5°C target.
  • There will be a body to monitor compliance with and application of the agreement.

Adaptation

  • International cooperation strengthens societies to cope with the impact of climate change. They must share their policy plans in this area.
  • Developing countries are receiving increasing support (including through technology transfer) to reduce their vulnerability and increase their resilience.

Loss and damage

  • Loss and damage caused by climate change must be limited and addressed. Regional insurance mechanisms are being developed together to share the risks and costs of damage caused by climate change.
  • Through international cooperation, systems are being developed to assist climate-sensitive areasearly warning, disaster preparation, etc.

Finance

  • Developed countries are committed to the agreed $100 billion a year in aid to developing countries to strengthen their resilience and reduce emissions. Every two years, they give an account of that funding. This finance objective will be reviewed in 2025.
  • Other countries – including emerging countries – are encouraged to provide funding on a voluntary basis.

Next steps

  • After the agreement was agreed, the next challenge was the entry into force of the agreement. To achieve this, a double threshold had to be exceeded: ratification by 55 countries responsible for at least 55% of global emissions. This threshold was reached at record speed and the agreement came into force as early as November 2016.
  • The agreement also needed to be further developed into a multilateral system of rules in order to become fully operational. These rules determine how the Paris Agreement should be applied in concrete terms for its various components. This multilateral system of rules or 'rulebook' was negotiated in the years following Paris and was able to be almost fully completed at COP24 in Katowice. The major exception to date has been the market mechanism and the exchange of credits between countries under the Paris Agreement.
  • However, the biggest challenge following the Paris agreement is to raise the level of ambition. Both the UNEP Gap Report (October 2017) and the IPCC report on 1.5°C global warming (October 2018) confirmed that the current national targets submitted under the Paris Agreement are only halfway towards meeting the temperature target under the Paris Agreement.
  • In 2018, a Talanoa dialogue was held to review the progress of national contributions against these scientific reports. This dialogue called upon all countries to reassess their objectives in the light of scientific findings.
  • In September 2019, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres organised a UN climate summit to generate additional action and create a political momentum whereby all countries would thoroughly strengthen their targets by 2020, while also presenting long-term climate neutrality strategies.

EU aims to show global leadership

  • In 2015, the European Union and its Member States submitted a reduction target of at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 and this target has since been converted into binding European legislation, with Belgium also being given a target of -35% by 2030 (compared to 2005) to be achieved in sectors such as transport, agriculture and housing.
  • However, the European Union wishes to go further and, during 2019, a vision document was discussed within all parts of the European Union to make the European Union climate-neutral by 2050. This objective for a climate-neutral European Union was approved by the European heads of government at the European Council of 12 December 2019.
  • On 11 December 2019, the European Commission presented its proposal for an EU Green Deal. This European Green Deal is the most comprehensive climate package ever and means that a policy will be implemented to completely transform the European economy and interweave sustainability throughout all European legislation. It also requires the use of just about all the financial instruments available, while ensuring that the transition is socially just.
  • The European leadership will also be extended diplomatically and Belgium is fully committed to this. It will take diplomacy to convince countries to show climate ambition. Climate will also become an integral part of bilateral summits between the EU and third countries and of trade agreements.

Conclusion

The momentum of Paris must not be lost. Continued attention to climate and environmental issues is necessary and civil society can certainly play a role in this. Even with a warming of 1.5°C, we will have to contend with floods and large droughts. But the consequences of a warming of more than 2°C go much further: the ice caps will melt completely and this will cause a huge rise in sea levels in the long run. Today, we are already living with a warming of 1°C. For developing countries, it is a question of taking climate action that at the same time improves living conditions. For example, healthy soils and the restoration of degraded land provide both carbon storage and increased food production. Just like with the Sustainable Development Goals, it is all hands on deck.

Climate financing

 Since 2010, within the framework of the climate agreements concluded at UN meetings in Copenhagen and Cancun, a significant amount of DGD's budget has been earmarked for climate financing every year. The Paris Climate Agreement (2015) saw developed countries pledge to mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 for the transition to low-carbon development and for adaptation to climate change in developing countries. Belgium undertook to contribute €50 million annually to international climate financing. In the inter-federal agreement on the sharing of Belgian climate and energy objectives for the period 2013-2020, it was agreed that the federal government would bear half of this commitment. The Government Agreement (2014-2019) envisages that the federal government will continue to contribute to international climate financing, including through its development cooperation.

Below is a graph showing Belgium's annual contribution to international climate financing and the federal government's share in it. More details about this funding (and the latest figures) can be found via Eionet.

Belgian climate financing is mainly channelled through multilateral funds such as GEF, LDCF and GCF.

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Table shows Belgian contribution compared to other authorities

Belgian contribution to international climate financing for 2013-2018 in EUR

Climate and Security

The impact of a changing climate can have negative consequences on, for example, the living environment or on socio-economic aspects of a society, increasing the risk of a deteriorating security situation. A fragile or unstable context may further deteriorate and escalate into conflict.  

Belgian foreign policy and development cooperation pay serious attention to this negative impact of climate change, both through our international political action and through the programmes we initiate and support in our partner countries and elsewhere.  

Belgium subscribes to the political resolutions in the United Nations that recognise the problem and call for more analysis and integration of the issue into the policy and operational actions of the UN. That is why Belgium supports the Climate and Security Mechanism, which further develops the subject of "climate and security" within the UN system. 

Belgium cooperated constructively in the establishment of the "climate and security" plans within the European Union and NATO and continues to closely monitor their implementation within these two organisations. Furthermore, it will clearly put this topic on the agenda of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during its chairmanship of the Forum on Security Cooperation in the autumn of 2022. 

From 2020 to the end of 2021, a study on climate and security in development cooperation was commissioned by the Belgian Development Cooperation. An academic group led by KULeuven conducted research into the interaction between climate and climate change and development cooperation. The group formulated advice on how the Belgian Development Cooperation can contribute to increased adaptation and resilience in partner countries in order to reduce the climate risk on human security. 

This analysis and other insights are being integrated into the new programmes of the Belgian Development Cooperation, such as the regional climate intervention in the Sahel.