Credit: Despina Galani via Unsplash

Spotlight: Belgium’s geopolitical division and how it obstructs COP26 goals

By Evelyn Dom

Writer Evelyn Dom interviews the Belgian Minister of Environment about where their country stands after the outcomes of COP26. 

After two weeks of negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26), the Glasgow Climate Pact has been signed by 197 countries. The pact’s main aims include limiting temperature increase by 1.5 degrees, a “phase down” of coal power and fossil fuel subsidies, financial aid towards climate adaptation for developing countries, and a request for countries to submit their 2030 climate plans. 

The European Union (EU) Fit for 55 package commits to cutting 55% of emissions by 2030. With a set objective of 62.5% emission reduction for the European industry, the national objective of emission reductions varies depending on the socio-economic status of each country. For Belgium, this percentage is at 47%. However, without a clear federal climate agreement, Belgium seemingly has fallen back to square one. I had the opportunity to talk to Philippe Henry, Vice President and Minister of Environment, Energy, Infrastructure and Mobility of Wallonia to discuss Belgium’s current situation in light of the climate crisis.

“Without a clear federal climate agreement [on emissions cutting], Belgium seemingly has fallen back to square one.”

With its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium plays a significant role within the European Union. When asked about its pertinence, Henry said that: “Belgium plays an important role because it is a small country, which makes it sometimes easier to propose ideas that may be more difficult for larger countries. We are also used to making compromises within Belgium.” 

However, with certain decisions being made at a regional level, the different regions of Belgium struggle to come eye-to-eye on agreeing to meet the objective set forward by the European Union. “The Belgian position is a little more complicated as the Flemish region has a newer and more advanced economy than Wallonia. There are many new enterprises which are energy intensive and that is why Flanders thinks it’s difficult to go as far in the reduction of emissions,” Henry said. However, he believes it is important to support the European will as it sets an example to the rest of the world, which is necessary in order to achieve the global goal.

“However, the different regions of Belgium struggle to come eye-to-eye on agreeing to meet the objective set forward by the European Union.”

Having broken its own record for holding the longest period without a democratic government, it is not the first time that Belgium’s complex geographical and political division has resulted in the inability to achieve a federal consensus. According to Henry, Flanders’ objectives of their own are no longer compatible with both those at the federal as well as European level. It is therefore also the reason that Belgium has been hesitant to join the High Ambition Coalition, as Flanders does not believe they are able to meet those goals. Henry mentions it is a shame and that we’re at the irreversible point where we need to take the risk and aim to achieve these ambitious goals as it is necessary for our climate.  

The Belgian political division wasn’t the only evident divide at COP26. While decisions are made by world leaders and delegates within the Blue Zone, activists stand at the entry doors outside and raise their concerns about the conferences’ lack of inclusivity. “Women, ethnic minorities and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are seriously under-represented in the political arena,” Lizzie Wilde says

Similarly, the Belgian youth have expressed their frustrations with the lacking ability to participate in the decision-making process. Cato Van Den Kerchove says the lack of input hurts a lot and adds that she feels privileged living in Belgium, a country that hasn’t been as severely impacted by the climate crisis, and thus can’t imagine how neglected countries that have been must feel. 

“The Belgian youth have expressed their frustrations with the lacking ability to participate in the decision-making process.”

When asked how this dividing gap between the decision-makers and the youth activists could be decreased, Henry stressed the importance of keeping the dialogue going between various voices. While he admits it’s not perfect and more could be done to create a more diverse and inclusive space for this dialogue, he does see an improvement in comparison to previous conferences. He states that Belgium’s delegation consists of ministers, persons from administrations, representatives of syndicates and enterprises and the youth. While these various voices are not all part of the negotiating process, they are able to give propositions that the decision-makers take into account. 


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