Interview with Ms. Joke Schauvliege, Minister for Environment, Nature and Agriculture of Flanders (Belgium)
After 6 intense years, the mandate of Catalonia as nrg4SD co-chair for the North has come to an end. Now we are excited to announce Flanders as the new nrg4SD co-chair for the North. What were the motivations for Flanders to apply for this position? How do you see nrg4SD current and future role in the international scenario?
Firstly I wish to congratulate Catalonia on their successful tenure as co-chair for the North. It was partially thanks to their enthusiasm and shining example that Flanders decided to take up this role.
Flanders is one of the regions who co-founded nrg4SD during the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, and was, especially during the initial years, a highly active member. Also in recent years we have been following the development within the Network closely and were happy to see the high degree of professionalism with which meetings, financial reports, programmes and activities are prepared and conducted. The strong thematic focus on important themes such as biodiversity and climate change and the way a whole swathe of regions across the world are actively engaged further propelled us to co-chair this lively organisation. The knowledge we are supported by a professional nrg4SD secretariat also helped greatly in reaching this decision.
As Flanders we have fully subscribed to the Sustainable Development Goals and we highly appreciate nrg4SD’s efforts in ensuring the role of the regions in implementing the Agenda 2030 is emphasized during high-level meetings convened at the UN and other fora. The role of nrg4SD, now and in the future, is mainly about increasing visibility of the potential of the regions in addressing key challenges related to climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development and Flanders as a co-chair will support this mission through its new mandate.
By composing the Belgium national delegation, Flanders has a strategic opportunity for participation in main international fora. For example, it contributed actively to the process that lead to the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement. What kind of actions Flanders is taking regards climate change? How do you think that as co-chair, you could support the network engagement in the global climate agenda?
Due to the specific federal structure of Belgium, Flanders has an important role to play in Belgium’s climate actions and more specifically in the compliance of its mitigation commitments as agreed under the European Union’s legislation and in the delivery of its share of international climate finance. These commitments are shared between the Belgian federal and regional entities via cooperation agreements.
Flanders developed a Climate Policy Plan that is split up in two segments: a Flemish Mitigation Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a Flemish Adaptation Plan to manage the effects of climate change in Flanders. The Mitigation Plan consists of measures that already proved their efficacy, such as financial support for energy efficient construction and renovation projects and certification requirements for cooling units. Also new measures were agreed upon and developed, such as stricter rules for new houses, offices and schools with regard to energy efficiency. A third important element in this plan are the commitments for financing already referred to earlier.
The Adaptation Plan is also a crucial one, given climate forecasts of higher temperatures, drier summers and rainier winters in Flanders. Adaptation forms a structural part of policy in all governance units and be a cornerstone for all our policy and management plans.
Thanks to our role within the Belgian delegation, we would be able to convey and defend the strategic messages of nrg4SD through Belgium’s and EU’s positions, defending the interests of the network within the UNFCCC, to the furthest extent possible.
On June 30th and July 1st, Flanders participated at the International Conference Regions 4 Biodiversity in Barcelona. Could you share with us more about Flanders’ strategies on biodiversity and what has been done to-date to achieve the Aichi Targets?
Flanders fully subscribes to the ambition level set by the EU 2020 targets for Biodiversity, and its activities on biodiversity fall under this framework, aligning with the Aichi targets. The activities of Flanders and its specialised Agency for Nature and Forests are wide-ranging. Our vision is: more nature, better nature, in the heart of society. Through this vision solutions are found that benefit nature, the economy and the people.
An important part of these solutions comes from the implementation of the Natura 2000 network, which is a network of breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and rare and threatened natural habitat types of European importance which are protected in their own right. In Flanders Natura 2000 spans approximately 12% of the territory, consisting of special areas of conservation.
Natura 2000 is not a system of strict nature reserves from which all human activities are excluded and most of the land remains privately owned. The approach to conservation and sustainable use of the Natura 2000 areas centres on people working with nature in an integrated and participatory way. We must ensure that the sites are managed in a sustainable manner, ecologically and economically, by subsidising land owners and users who prove to have a high ambition level in supporting biodiversity in their land management plan. Aside from habitat protection on the landscape level, species protection programmes have been developed in consultation with stakeholders in addition to already existing species protection plans.
In order to deal with invasive alien species, a strategy was drawn up combining prevention with control and eradication, based on recently adopted legislation.
During the last General Assembly meeting, nrg4SD consulted members about the main recommended steps to begin implementation of the SDGs at subnational level. How does Flanders carries on the translation of the SDGs, as a global agenda, to concrete implementation in the Flemish territory? Why it would be important that other regions get engaged with the 2030 Agenda?
Flanders has always been actively engaged in the run-up to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, ensuring our priorities were reflected in the ambitious agreement. Local stakeholders and policy actors were aware of what the Sustainable Development Goals entailed well before September 2015 and they could link up their own work with the global agenda. This process allowed Flanders to hit the ground running when it came down to implementing the Agenda. Partially this is done independently, given our region’s competences in certain fields such as water, energy and biodiversity, but we also work closely with other regions and the federal level in order to ensure a smooth transition to a truly sustainable development agenda. The agenda requires us all to work together, across sectors and across the different governance levels. To this end we actively participate in the forums that were set up to allow this discussion, on the Flemish, Belgian, European and global level.
Flanders elaborated a vision for sustainable development, “Visie 2050”, which sets out to create welfare and well-being in a smart, innovative and sustainable way in a social, open, resilient and internationally oriented Flanders in which everyone counts. This strategy for sustainable development has several priorities of transition that match up with SDGs.
Complementing this central strategy are outreach activities towards all stakeholders informing them on this new Agenda as well as training sessions for civil servants to truly get acquainted and familiar with this important topic, allowing every ministry, department, province, city, company and citizen to engage in the implementation of the SDGs.
The Visiting Experts Program and the Call for Projects are both nrg4SD initiatives that aim at fostering members’ cooperation and exchange of experiences. In your opinion, what opportunities and benefits can these projects bring to regions?
It is through the experiences of others that one can learn the most, and it is through cooperation that one can achieve the best results. These, in my view, are the main benefits of the initiatives that were developed by nrg4SD. The Visiting Experts Program offers the unique opportunity for regions within the Network to exchange expertise and advice. The wide geographical range of the Network makes this possibility especially interesting, also for setting up of projects around such fields as water resources management, forestry, protected areas and biodiversity. The lessons learned from these bilateral forms of cooperation can then easily spill over to the rest of the network through the sharing of these experiences and their benefits.
Finally, what messages would you like to convey to nrg4SD members at the beginning of this term?
I would like to thank the members for the active engagement they have shown so far in this network in order to promote sustainable development at the level of subnational governments, both through local actions and international outreach. Let’s all continue and work together and give a clear and strong voice to subnational governments at the global level in the fields of sustainable development, biodiversity and climate change. Our commitments in these agendas will be crucial for their attainment.