With the start of COP26, we are likely to hear a lot about it: Belgium’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.
But what exactly are these Belgian objectives and what progress has already been made since Belgium committed to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
In his government agreement, Vivaldi is in line with 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 to achieve climate neutrality in our country by 2050. “. The federal government also confirmed this ambition in the Council of Ministers at the beginning of October. This 5% reduction target is, however, an overall objective set for the 27 states of the European Union. The Belgian share of this effort amounts to a 47% reduction in GHG emissions.
1990, the reference year
Belgium is not starting out of nowhere, however. This reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is calculated from the 1990 emission level.
Belgian emissions should therefore not be reduced by almost half by 2030 compared to our current emissions but rather compared to the quantity of gas released into the atmosphere in 1990. ” This is the date on which all international reporting is based. », Explains Pascal Vermeulen, one of the founders of Climact, a consultancy firm on climate change and energy. “We had to define a reference year. Everyone agreed, whatever the state, whatever the region, to take 1990 as a starting point. “.
The glass half full
So let’s dive into the numbers and go back to this reference year.
According to United Nations statistics, in 1990, Belgium emitted 145 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (measured in CO2 equivalent). These emissions continued to grow until the end of the 1990s, before starting to slowly decrease. In UN statistics, the most recent figures date from 2019.
In 2019, Belgium released 116 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. Belgian emissions have therefore fallen significantly since 1990. the calculating is quick: in 29 years Belgium has managed to reduce its emissions by 29 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, or one million tonnes on average per year. This still represents a reduction of 20%
The half empty glass
” Today, we have reduced our emissions by around 20%. It’s already good, ”comments Pascal Vermeulen. But there is still a long way to go, we are far behind the goal. “
What does this delay represent in concrete terms in terms of the number of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases? Representing our 1990 figures (145 million tonnes), a 47% reduction in our initial emissions (according to the objectives assigned by the European Commission) a total effort of 68 million tonnes by 2030.
In other words, in thirty years, Belgium has reduced its emissions by 29 million tonnes. And to meet the 2030 targets, we will have to reduce our emissions by an additional 39 million tonnes in just 11 years (from 2019 to 2030). It will therefore be necessary to achieve significantly more efforts in three times less time. This is a reduction of nearly 3.5 million tonnes per year on average, against 1 million per year reduction on average between 1990 and 2019. For Pascal Vermeulen, “If you take the image of the glass half full or half empty, I think it is mostly empty. You have to be aware of it. You are not there at all. “
Significant decrease in the industrial sector
Moreover, to understand the scale of the effort to be made by 2030, it is important to observe how Belgium has managed to reduce its emissions by 20% so far, sector by sector.
The sector in which emissions have fallen the most in absolute terms is industry. Despite everything, this remains the most emitting sector today, with nearly a third of Belgian CO2 emissions. But the reductions in greenhouse gases are significant in the industry, since they have fallen by more than 30% since the base year.
The efforts made in energy production since 1990 are also significant. The electricity generation sector has reduced its emissions by 43% according to Climact figures. The arrival of renewal and the gradual replacement of coal-fired power stations are largely there.
On the other hand, in the industrial sector, not all emission reductions are due to less demanding technologies or a deliberate rationalization of processes. A large part of these reductions were also “suffered”, due to a transformation of the Belgian industrial sector and the decline of some very polluting, such as the steel industry.
” It is very marked in Wallonia “, notes Pascal Vermeulen,” with the departure of extremely energy-intensive and CO2-emitting sectors “. Much of the emission reductions are therefore not the result of a voluntary policy and have often even been” suffered “when they are, for example, the consequence of the closure of factories or of a slowdown. general economy, as was the case after the 2008 crisis and as the statistics for 2020 will probably show as well.
Iweps figures, the Walloon Institute for Evaluation, Foresight and Statistics, are very helpful in this regard. Between 1990 and 2019, greenhouse gas emissions from Walloon industry decreased by 15 million tonnes. This would mean that the emission reductions of Walloon companies alone represent more than half of the 29 million tonnes saved in Belgium since 1990.
Very often, however, in the event of an activity being relocated, the tonnes of CO2 gained in Belgium were passed on elsewhere in the world. We can think of a closed blast furnace in Wallonia to reopen on the other side of the world. The reduction of Belgian greenhouse gases is therefore not always a step forward in the global fight against climate change.
Increased emissions in the transport sector
And then there are all these sectors which have seen little progress in their production of CO2, or even which emit much more today than in 1990. This is the case for transport, in particular. This is the sector that has recorded the largest increase in its greenhouse gas emissions.
The climate change consultancy Climact notes a 23% increase in emissions in the transport sector, of which road transport accounts for the largest share. ” We are making no progress in transport, on the contrary. So we have to thoroughly review the way transport is organized in Belgium. “In general, Pascal Vermeulen points to a lack” structural reforms of our energy consumption and production “.
It is possible despite everything
So when we see the way that remains to be covered, are the Belgian and European objectives out of reach? Is it possible to cover a much longer path in a short decade than that covered over the past 30 years? All the more so since the first tonnes of CO2 saved have sometimes been artificially or suffered. Each next ton, will undoubtedly require more effort. With the probable exception of the year 2020 marked by the Covid crisis, we also note that greenhouse gas emissions have decreased significantly less rapidly in recent years. A certain stagnation in emissions has been observable in Belgium since 2015.
And yet, ” yes, it is doable! “, insists Pascal Vermeulen.” It is not easy. But reducing our emissions and becoming carbon neutral in Belgium in 2050 with an important meeting clause in 2030 is technically and economically feasible.. “This will require more energy efficiency and a rationalization of demand.” We can also talk about energy sobriety. We really have to reduce demand and we all have a role to play in that. “