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Sound and independent information
on the environment

Belgium

Country profile (Belgium)

What distinguishes the country?

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NFP-Belgium
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NFP-Belgium
Reporting country
Belgium
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Last updated
22 Dec 2010
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NFP-Belgium
Published: 05 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 22 Dec 2010 original

Geography and Climate

Belgium has a relatively limited territory (30528km²- 2006) with moderate elevation levels (<700m). The main rivers are Scheldt and Meuse. It is crisscrossed by a large network of waterways and a very dense transport network (roads and railways). The country is bordered by the North Sea, the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and France. Belgium is highly urbanised and densely populated (10.666.866 inhabitants – 349 inhabitants/km² - 01.01.2008). The population growth rate is slow. The growth results primarily from immigration.

Belgium has a temperate maritime climate, characterised by moderate temperatures, predominantly westerly winds, cloudy skies and frequent rain. The evolution of temperatures in the past century reveals an upward trend, a phenomenon that has been accentuated in recent years. Flora and fauna in Belgium are typical of other areas of Europe with a temperate climate. Presently, only 20 % (2006) of the Belgian territory is still covered by woodland (forests of broadleaved trees or conifers). This surface area has decreased slightly since 1990, as has agricultural land, which nevertheless still occupies the greater part of the territory.

 
Key message

Belgian housing stock is characterised by a high proportion of old buildings (especially in the big cities)

Housing

Belgian housing stock is characterised by a high proportion of old buildings (especially in the big cities). The presence of central heating in Belgian housing has risen in the past decades. Natural gas has now surpassed fuel oil as the main source of heat. Coal has also shown a marked decline. Major progress has been made in insulating buildings (dual-glazed windows, insulated roofs, outer walls and heating pipes).

 

Key message

Tourism is one of Belgium’s smaller industries but its accessibility makes it a popular tourist destination

Tourism

Tourism is one of Belgium’s smaller industries; however the country’s easy accessibility from elsewhere in Europe makes it a popular tourist destination. The main centres of the Belgian tourist industry are the coastal region and the Ardennes. The coastline has several resorts and numerous beaches. Most are designed for family-oriented vacations and draw tourists from France, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Situated in the southeast of Belgium, the Ardennes is one of the few unspoiled natural areas in western Europe. The area attracts campers and day trippers. It is known for hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and mountaineering in the spring and summer months. In the winter, tourists engage in both downhill and cross-country skiing.

 

Key message

Belgium is a Federal State composed of 3 communities and 3 regions

Figures

Figure 1: The Regions and Communities of Belgium

A map of the regions and communities of Belgium
Data source
http://www.belgium.be/en/about_belgium/government/federale_staat/map/
Figure 1: The Regions and Communities of Belgium
Fullscreen image Original link
Institutions

Federal structure of the state

Belgium is a federal state composed of communities and regions1. After becoming independent in 1830, Belgium gradually evolved from a unitary to a federal structure. Five successive constitutional reforms (in 1970, 1980, 1988-89, 1993 and 2001) have resulted in the present-day governing structure.

The division of powers under the successive reforms evolved on the basis of two main criteria. The first, language, and, more broadly, culture, gave rise to the communities. The concept of ‘community’ refers to the people that make it up and the ties which unite them, namely language and culture. Belgium has three official languages: French, Dutch and German. Modern-day Belgium is therefore composed of three communities: the Flemish, the French and the German-speaking Community. They correspond to population groupings. The French Community exercises its authority in the Walloon provinces, with the exception of the German-speaking municipalities, and in Brussels; the Flemish Community exercises its authority in the Flemish provinces and in Brussels; the German speaking Community exercises its authority in the municipalities of the German-speaking region, all of which are situated in the Province of Liege (Figure 1).

The second main thrust of the constitutional reform is rooted in history and in particular the aspiration of some for greater economic autonomy. The creation of three regions is the result of these aspirations. The three regional institutions are named after their territories, i.e. from north to south, the Flemish Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region (Figure 1). Their powers have expanded during the different phases of the reform. Currently, each of the three regions has one legislative and one executive body: the regional council and the regional government. In Flanders, the community and regional institutions have merged, so there is only one Flemish council and one Flemish government.

The constitutional reform has thus created a three-tier system. The upper tier comprises the federal state, the communities and the regions, all equal under law. They intervene on an equal footing but in different areas.

The middle tier comprises the ten provinces. They act within the framework of the federal, community or regional powers and are subordinate to all higher authorities. The bottom tier of the edifice comprises the municipalities (589 in all), which are the level of power closest to the citizen. Like the provinces, they are also subordinate to the higher authorities. Depending on the area of power being exercised, they are therefore accountable to the federal government, the community or the region. They are financed and controlled primarily by the regions.

 

Division of powers

The federal government is responsible for key policies such as foreign affairs, defence, justice, finance, social security and an important part of public health matters and internal affairs. The communities and the regions are nonetheless responsible for establishing foreign relations for matters under their authority.

The powers of the communities concern matters related to ‘persons’: culture (theatre, libraries, audiovisual, etc.), education, use of languages and matters that can be ‘personalised’, including health policy (preventive and curative medicine) and assistance to individuals (child protection, social assistance, family assistance, reception of immigrants, etc.). The communities are also responsible for scientific research and international relations in the areas under their authority.

The regions have powers in areas related to occupation of the ‘territory’ in the broad sense. The Flemish Region, the Brussels-Capital Region and the Walloon Region are thus responsible for the economy, employment, agriculture, water policy, housing, public works, energy, transport (with the exception of the national railway, SNCB), the environment, town and country planning, rural revitalisation, nature conservation, credit, foreign trade, and provincial, municipal and inter-municipal administration. They are responsible for scientific research and international relations in the above-mentioned areas.

 


1 First article of the Belgian constitution

 

Key message

Belgium's economic strength is based on its geographic position at the crossroads of Western Europe, its highly skilled and educated workforce, and its participation in the EU.

Economy

Belgium's economic strength is based on its geographic position at the crossroads of western Europe, its highly skilled and educated workforce, and its participation in the EU. During its industrial period, Belgium developed a highly efficient and capable transportation infrastructure that included roads, ports, canals, and railways. The multilingual nature of the workforce and its industriousness has made the workforce one of the most productive in the world.

Belgium has a very open economy, situated at the heart of a zone of intense economic activity. Exports of goods and services represent 92,1 % (2008) of GDP and imports nearly 92,8 %(2008). The Belgian economy is currently dominated by the service sectors. The importance of the manufacturing industries has gradually declined over the last 30 years.

With few natural resources, Belgium must import substantial quantities of raw materials and export a large volume of manufactures, making its economy unusually dependent on the state of world markets. More than three-quarters of its trade is with other EU countries. Public debt is 89.8 % of GDP (2008). After a long period of decline (133,6 % in 1993) public debt is rising again due to the financial crisis. Income distribution is relatively equal. Belgium began circulating the euro in January 2002.

What are the foreseen developments?

Published: 05 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 22 Dec 2010 original
Key message

A general growth in population with an increased share of elderly people is foreseen. Energy and transport sector keep on exerting high environmental pressures as well as other consumption patterns.

Demographics ...

The foreseen demographic changes are characterised by a general growth in population (around 11 % between 2010 and 2030). The share of people aged 65 years and over will increase from 17 % in 2010 to 23 % in 20301. This projected trend is about the same in the Flemish and the Walloon Regions. However, in the Brussels-Capital Region this increase will be weaker, from 14 % in 2010 to 16 % in 2030, because of a higher birth rate. Another important foreseen development is the growing number of households in the population. They will influence the urbanisation patterns and will go with new types of consumption that might have negative effects on the environment. Regarding economic forecasts, the length of the financial crisis remains uncertain, as well as the social and environmental side effects. The likely decrease in environmental pressures due to the current negative economic growth rates will nevertheless not contribute to sustainable development.

At the sectoral level, under baseline assumptions, the energy and transport sectors will keep on exerting high environmental pressures: regarding energy2, national requirements for coal and natural gas will increase between 2000 and 2030. The surge in renewable energy sources (RES) is noticeable (4.2 % on average per annum). Final energy demand will increase by 10 % during the period 2000-2030; however, this scenario, carried out in 2007, does not take into account new elements such as the adoption of the package ‘Energy-climate’ at the European level and the delay of the phasing out of three nuclear power plants

  • regarding transport3, according to four reference scenarios, passenger transport is projected to increase between 2005 and 2030, with a growth rate estimated between 22 % and 30 % depending on the reference scenario. The growth of passenger transport is dominated by private cars. The freight transport also rises in the four reference scenarios. Trucks and heavy goods vehicles remain the main mode of freight transport in 2030.

Our food consumption is also expected to contribute to future environmental pressures within Belgium and at the global level but no baseline scenarios have been developed for food.

As a feedback loop, climate change caused by our unsustainable consumption and production patterns might also have severe impacts on the environment with the foreseen increase in the number of extreme climate events, such as storms, floods and droughts4.

 


1 Bureau fédéral du Plan (2008). Perspectives de population 2007-2060. Planning paper 105. Mai 2008.

2 D. Devogelaer en D. Gusbin (2007), Energievooruitzichten voor België tegen 2030 in een tijdperk van klimaatverandering, Perspectives énergétiques pour la Belgique à l’horizon 2030 dans un contexte de changement climatique, Planning Paper 102. Bureau fédéral du Plan.

3 Hoornaert B. Vervoermemissies. Historische evolutie en vooruitzichten. WP 8-09. Bureau fédéral du Plan. http://www.plan.be/admin/uploaded/200907161021330.wp200908.pdf

4 European Commission (2009). Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament 2008 Environment Policy Review. 11505/09. http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/09/st11/st11505.en09.pdf

Key message

Policy plans exist at the different political levels in Belgium

Federal level:

Policy declaration of the federal Government – 13 October 2009

Federal Plan for Sustainable Development 2004-2008: second Federal Plan for sustainable development established within the context of the Federal strategy for sustainable development established by the Bill on the co-ordination of the federal policy on sustainable development (SD) of May 5th 1997.

 

Key message

Policy plans exist at the different political levels in Belgium

Flanders:

Flanders in Action: Flanders is looking forward to 2020. In that year, it wants to assume a leading position among the best performing European regions. For that reason, Flanders in Action anno 2008 is focused on five breakthrough actions:

The open entrepreneur
The learning Fleming
Smart logistics for Europe
Medical Centre Flanders
Green City Region

 

 
Key message

Policy plans exist at the different political levels in Belgium

Wallonia:

Plan Marshall 2.vert: Strategic development plan for Wallonia

 

Key message

Policy plans exist at the different political levels in Belgium

Brussels:

Plan régional de développement (Région de Bruxelles-Capitale)Gewestelijke ontwikkelingsplan (Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest): regional development plan, strategic plan which lays down the objectives and the priorities of development of the Brussels-Capital Region

Plan international de développement (Région de Bruxelles-Capitale)Plan voor de internationale ontwikkeling van Brussel (Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest) : international development plan, development project for the Brussels-Capital Region which is articulated around the international vocation of the city

Contrat Economie-emploi (Région de Bruxelles-Capitale) Contract Economie-tewerkstelling (Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest): contract economy-employment, joint actions aiming the economic redeployment of the Brussels-Capital Region

Plan régional des déplacements (Région de Bruxelles-Capitale) – Gewestelijk vervoersplan (Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest): Brussels Mobility Plan

Plans environnementaux (Région de Bruxelles-Capitale) – Milieuplannen (Brussels Hoofdstedelijk Gewest): Environment Plan of the Brussels-Capital Region

 

Key message

Strategic forward looking exercises exist at several political levels

Federal level:

Fourth Federal Report on sustainable Development ‘Accelerating the transition towards sustainable development’: presentation of two long-term (2050) sustainable development scenarios . The Federal reports on sustainable development are established within the context of the federal strategy for sustainable development established by the Bill on the co-ordination of the federal policy on sustainable development (SD) of May 5th 1997.

 

Key message

Strategic forward looking exercises exist at several political levels

The Flemish Region:

MIRA-S: Milieuverkenning 2030 (Dutch): Future environmental scenarios

NARA-S: Natuurverkenning 2030 (Dutch): Future nature scenarios

 

What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?

Published: 05 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 22 Dec 2010 original
Key message

Industry in Belgium has changed profoundly since 1960 and its weight in the economy has declined.

Industry

Industry in Belgium has changed profoundly since 1960 and its weight in the economy has declined. The metallurgy sector, constituted mainly of large companies situated in the heart of the former industrial areas of Wallonia, has undergone considerable restructuring as a result of the crisis that began in the sector in the 1970s.

The textile sector, which has also had to cope with major difficulties during the same period, has tended to merge its activities. In contrast, the agri-foods industry has evolved into Belgium's third largest industrial sector. Chemicals account for one-fifth of the turnover of Belgian industries; Belgium ranks tenth worldwide in this sector. The automotive industry in Belgium is limited to assembly, which takes place mostly in large plants owned by multinationals. Railway construction and the highly technological aviation sector also have a strong presence in Belgium.

 

Key message

Agriculture is still an important economic sector putting only a limited number of active population to work.

Agriculture

Belgian agriculture is specialised in market garden and horticultural crops, cereals, potatoes, sugar beets, livestock and milk production. Fishing has relatively limited importance in the economy. Although agricultural land in use has remained relatively stable, the number of farms and the active population in this sector have continued to decline significantly in recent years, continuing a trend underway since World War II. The active population in agriculture and fisheries currently represents less than 1 % of the population. Despite this decline, agriculture and fisheries are still important economic sectors.

Key message

Transport is a constantly growing sector due to Belgium's geographical position as a country of transit, with an economy geared largely to export.

Transport

Transport is a constantly growing sector due to Belgium's geographical position as a country of transit, with an economy geared largely to export. This growth particularly concerns road and air transport. The number of passenger cars has risen spectacularly (motorisation rate in Belgium: one car for every two inhabitants). Growth is even higher for goods transport vehicles. Demand for fossil energy in the sector is expected to continue to rise. The development of new technologies to improve vehicle energy efficiency is slow which has a negative impact on emissions of air pollutants in the sector. Road is by far the main mode of transport in Belgium, both for passengers and goods.

 

Key message

Primary energy intensity has declined in Belgium since 1998, reflecting the uncoupling of economic growth and primary energy consumption.

Energy

On the whole, primary energy intensity has declined in Belgium since 1998, reflecting the uncoupling of economic growth and primary energy consumption. Buildings constitute the leading end-consumer of energy (31 % of final energy in 2007), followed by industry (30 %), one-third of which for iron and steel, and transport (23 %).

Total final energy consumption decreased at a yearly rate of 0,9 % between 2000 and 2007. Final consumption of iron and steel has continued a downward trend since 1979.

Petroleum (including petroleum products) remains the dominant source of energy (39,2 % in 2007), followed by natural gas (25,4 %), nuclear energy (21,4 %), solid fuels (7,8 %) and renewable fuels (5 %). The remaining 1,2 % are other sources used primarily to generate electricity. Petroleum covers primarily the needs of the transport and residential sectors as well as non-energy uses (feed stocks). Electricity and natural gas, on the other hand, play a major role in industry and the residential sector, while the use of solid fuels is mainly confined to the iron and steel industry.

Nuclear plants generate 54 % (2007) of electricity and classic thermal power stations 39 %; pumping power stations, hydraulic energy and renewable energy generate the remaining 7 %. The share of liquid fuels in electricity generation is declining.

Renewable energy constitutes a very small share of primary energy generation (5 % in 2007), notably due to the relatively low potential for this type of energy in Belgium (small territory and limited availability of hydraulic, geothermal and solar resources). Eventually, renewable energy, which is being developed intensely, is nevertheless expected to constitute a substantial share of primary energy generation. Wind energy in particular is being developed through numerous projects. Regarding the production of electricity, the electricity generated from renewable resources currently (2007) represents 5,4 % of primary electricity generation.

 

What have been the major societal developments?

Published: 05 Nov 2010 Modified: 13 Apr 2011 Feed synced: 22 Dec 2010 original

Society

Belgium enjoys a high standard of living and a high per capita income. In the yearly UN Human Development Report, Belgium is consistently ranked among the countries with the highest human development index. There are large differences in wealth and poverty in Belgium. However, the social welfare programmes prevent extreme poverty.

The Belgian social welfare system covers family allowance, unemployment insurance, pensions, medical benefits, and a programme that provides salary in case of illness. Employers and workers contribute to the system. Many companies also offer supplementary retirement and medical programmes. Almost all citizens are covered by medical insurance.

Each region has special councils that provide public assistance and aid to the poor. Housing societies provide low-income housing for the poor and immigrants. Policies to eliminate slums and revitalise urban neighbourhoods are also in place.

Overall, Belgium's educational system (community competence) is of good quality. Freedom of education is a constitutional right. Both public and private schools exist, but the community governments has subsidised private schools since the legal system abolished fees in 1958. Children must attend school between the ages of 6 and 18. The country has seven universities (four that teach in French and three that teach in Dutch). There are also a number of specialised and technical schools.

 

Key message

Belgium's economic strength is based on its geographic position at the crossroads of Western Europe, its highly skilled and educated workforce, and its participation in the EU.

Economy

For most of its history, Belgium's economy was based on its manufacturing capabilities. Belgium was the first country in continental Europe to undergo the industrial revolution, and through the 19th century it was a major steel producer. Large coal deposits helped industrialisation. At the same time, agriculture began to decline. This decline was even more pronounced after World War II, and by 2000, agriculture only accounted for a small percentage of the economy. In the post-World War II era, heavy manufacturing and mining declined. However, there was significant growth in the service sector, and the country switched from heavy production to light manufacturing and began producing finished products instead of steel, textiles and raw materials. Belgium imports basic and intermediary goods, adds value to them through advanced manufacturing, and then exports the finished products. With the exception of the remaining coal resources, Belgium has no significant natural resources.

The oil crisis of the 1970s and economic restructuring led to a series of prolonged recessions. The 1980-82 recession was particularly severe and resulted in massive unemployment. Meanwhile, the main economic activity shifted northward into Flanders. In 1990, the government linked the Belgian Franc to the German mark through interest rates. This spurred a period of economic growth. In 1992-93, another recession plagued Belgian history. During this period, the real GDP declined by 1.7 %. Foreign investments have provided new capital and funds for businesses and have consistently helped maintain the economy. Since Brussels is considered to be the de facto capital of the EU, many multinational firms have relocated to the city.

There have been major regional differences in the country’s economic development. In the former industrial and agricultural areas, unemployment rates tend to be higher, while they tend to be lower in the newer urban centres (where the service economy is dominant). Nevertheless, overall national unemployment rates continue to be lower than the EU average. In 1993, in an effort to give the regions greater flexibility to deal with economic problems, each region was given broad economic powers to control trade, industrial development, and environmental regulation.

The government has also privatised many companies that were formally owned by the state.

As the profitability of many industries declined in the post-World War II era, the government attempted to support them in order to maintain employment. Among the strategies used were subsidising certain industries, mainly steel and textile companies. In addition, the government reduced interest rates and offered tax incentives and bonuses to attract foreign businesses. All of these measures helped maintain the economy by preventing massive unemployment, but they also led to drastic government deficits in the 1970s and -80s. By the 1990s, successive governments diligently worked to reduce the debt.

Belgium was one of the founding members of the European Community (now EU), and has been one of the foremost proponents of regional economic integration. In 2000, 80 % of Belgium's trade was with other EU Member States. Membership in the EU was the culmination of longstanding national support for economic cooperation. For instance, in 1921, Belgium joined with Luxembourg to form the Belgian-Luxembourg Economic Union (BLEU). This organisation oversaw cross-border trade between the three nations. Belgium is also a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

 

Key message

Belgium became highly urbanised and densely populated

Figures

Figure 2: Evolution degree of surface impermeability Brussels and surroundings (1955-2006)

None
Data source
http://documentation.bruxellesenvironnement.be/documents/Plan_pluie_2008-2011_RIE_FR.PDF
Figure 2: Evolution degree of surface impermeability Brussels and surroundings (1955-2006)
Fullscreen image Original link
Urbanisation

Belgium has become highly urbanised and densely populated (2008: 349,4 inh/km2 overall, 455,7 for the Flemish Region, 205,2 for the Walloon Region, and 6496,9 for the Brussels-Capital Region), soil sealing increased and urban sprawl around major cities expanded. As a result, commuting (distance) increased. For instance, in the Brussels-Capital Region, about 53 % of the 680 000 employments are occupied by people living in the two other regions (2007).

More than 60 % of the commuters use their car to go to work.

Urbanisation results among others in increased soil sealing of the territory. This impermeability of soil has notable environmental impacts: reduced water provision for ‘phreatic water tables/surfaces’ and aquifers, restricted development of vegetation (which involves impacts on biodiversity, well-being, micro-climate) and increased flood risk.

The results of a study concerning the evolution of soil impermeability in and around the Brussels-Capital Region, based on spatial analysis and remote sensing, illustrates the magnitude of the phenomenon.

For Brussels and surroundings, the proportion of impermeable surfaces increased from 26 % in 1955 to 47 % in 2006.

 

Disclaimer

The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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