Interview with Ms. Joke Schauvliege, Minister for the Environment, Nature and Agriculture of the Government of Flanders and Chair for the North of nrg4SD, during COP22
Thursday 17th November 2016
Flanders has a privileged position in international negotiations due to the specific representative structure of Belgium. Could you share with us how do you see the negotiations are going in this COP 22 and how subnational governments are being perceived?
Last year a very important COP was held in Paris where the Paris Agreement was approved. Indeed, that was an extraordinary success that now here in Marrakech we need to continue and ensure that those decisions can be really delivered. The actions are currently on the table and it is very good news that the spirit of Paris is still here. There were initially some concerns about the current situation in the US after the elections, but everybody shows their will to implement actions and are committed to go for the Agreement, so that gives a lot of hope.
There are some issues of course on the table, the main one is related to the timetable to have those very concrete actions implemented on the ground. In this aspect, you feel many Parties and actors want to go even faster. That was already perceived in Paris so it is good news and I hope tomorrow when the COP is finished that will be also part of the outcomes.
There is also another open theme of discussion on the adaptation funds, in particular about the construction of the adaptation funds and how they can function, and especially from where those funds will be coming. I think this is also an important issue that is still on the table and it is very important to build up the trust about it because if we do not succeed in implementing all that the Paris Agreement mentions we may risk losing that trust. So we really need to have an extremely good outcome tomorrow.
Of course, those are the points that are on the table at present, but many other points have already been agreed, so I feel there is a good spirit and I am full of hope.
Speaking about actions on the ground, what actions is Flanders developing in terms of climate change and sustainable development? What are your contributions to the COP 22?
First, it is necessary to point out that we as Flanders sit around the European Union table. I come from Belgium and I am Minister of the region of Flanders having full competencies on climate and environment. In Belgium we have an internal rotation system for the Belgian chair in the European Union. Currently it is my turn in the chairmanship, so I am in Marrakech speaking not only on behalf of Flanders but also of the Belgian member states. Therefore, we have the opportunity to join the European Union delegation and sit around the table with the rest of the world. In that scene, we also show the things we do in Flanders, for instance we have shared our climate plan, which includes a mitigation plan and an adaptation plan. The mitigation plan is now focused mainly on buildings and cars since a lot of actions were already implemented in the industry sector and the situation there is good at present. We strongly believe that our efforts must be addressed now to buildings and cars because in those sectors is where we can have best results. In fact, there are a lot of old buildings in Flanders that need to become more efficient from the energy point of view. Besides, we have greened taxes with regards to cars’ policy, so now you pay more the more your car pollutes. We are also planning our “COP”, a climate conference that will take place on 1st December 2016 and where all stakeholders are invited to join and contribute to a climate pact. So we expect everybody to engage to take action on the ground to tackle climate change. All the aforementioned are the actions developed by Flanders in terms of mitigation, but we also have action in terms of adaptation. Indeed, the climate is changing in Flanders, and for instance water management has become an issue. So we have a strong focus on that field and we finance a lot of water basins and infrastructures to adapt to climate change. There is also a lot of investment from my Government in nature and forest protection, which it is not that easy in Flanders since we are a very small region with a lot of people and many buildings and industry, so we need to cope with many claims but are firmly committed to protecting in an optimal way the nature we still have in Flanders.
Flanders has recently assumed the position of Chair for the North of nrg4SD, how do you see the Network and what are your plans for it?
It is an honour to be Chair for the North of nrg4SD because I really believe that when subnational governments need to take action we can learn a lot from each other. Indeed, we need to think global on climate action but it is the local level and the regions who have to implement action on the floor, so I think that when coming to the motor “think global act local” it is really important that we have good practices we can learn from each other. In this regard, we have nrg4SD as a platform where we can contact each other. This is very important and as Chair for the North I really want to go for it: work more together and give a lot of visibility to the Network. I have seen that a lot of regions look at the Network and want to learn what we are doing and check what the Network can do for them. And I can say that it is very good to be a member of nrg4SD, it feels like coming home when you are together with all those fellow members that really want go forward and work on sustainable development. I believe this is one of the great added values of the Network and where it stands for. So, when there are candidates to join our Network, I would say do it and you will be very lucky!
Is there a message you would like to convey our members?
My message for our members is that we need to show what we do in our territories, because the subnational level does not wait for big decisions to be taken here nor in other parts of the world, we just act on the ground and we must show it and help each other.