Interview with Matthias De Moor, Policy Advisor for International Environmental Affairs – Government of Flanders
nrg4SD: On the importance of civic participation, academia, universities, the private sector and especially social movements in decision making processes on the biodiversity and environmental affairs agenda, what kind of mechanisms of participation in governance spaces or platforms does Flanders implement to preserve biodiversity?
Flanders: I agree the stakeholder’s participation of all levels is very crucial and in the Ministry for the Environment of Flanders we actually have monthly stakeholder dialogues that always cover different themes. One of them is biodiversity, where certain policy-makers and civil servants give presentations alongside some NGOs and share certain challenges they may have encountered. That also helps to feed into the strategic decision making when thinking of biodiversity plans. Of course I am speaking on behalf of the Ministry for the Environment, but there is also the Agency for Nature and Forest, who are actually the main actors when it comes to biodiversity strategies, so they follow the lead on European directives, but of course, they also engage fully with academia and civil society.
One of the examples that I am very familiar with is one that falls under the Natura 2000 framework, where the Agency actively engages with citizens who are landowners in order so that they can activate certain biodiversity strategies on their territories and try to achieve conservation objectives. We actually have created this strategies and visions for their territories with them, together with academia and NGOs, who have relevant ideas and experiences with what is needed to be done in certain areas and with which kind of nature in which different requirements apply. It depends on whether the owner wants to have agriculture practices on his land or if he just wants to keep a forest and maybe have some water stream and make some money out of that. So there is an intensive ongoing dialogue with them for this program that we call Nature Management Plan.
Another example is the program “Greening your neighbourhood”, where communes are invited to create more green spaces and are also actively encouraged to engage with their citizens to see what kind of projects are desirable and what kind of demands arise from civil society.
nrg4SD: Regarding the Nature Management program, I recall on another occasion you were speaking about pollinators. Can you please explain a bit further how is the program involved with the sustainable use of pollinators?
Flanders: We have a lot of awareness-raising campaigns, the most recent one is focused on pollinators, and specifically this one we called it the “Week of the bee”, were we go to schools, citizens and mass media to explain people about the problems that result from the declining of pollinators population and give them advice on how to help and pull in their weight, even as individual families but also as big industry owners who can actually do a lot by planting certain kind of flowers and trees to help keep the pollinators population.
Another example where citizens have been engaged in is the yearly bird counting, where we have a lot of citizens that want to participate by counting certain bird species to see if the population declines or rises. It is important to gather data, and in Flanders, we have various programs where citizens help to collect this data in a very systematic way and help us to create policies in a better way.
nrg4SD: As you probably know the Regions for Biodiversity Learning Platform is one of nrg4SD’s biggest projects and has the objective of helping regions to implement their strategic plans on biodiversity and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets (ABTs). What is Flanders situation regarding the implementation of these two commitments? Do you have a strategic plan on biodiversity? Could you tell us some of its specific actions?
Flanders: We have a strategic plan on biodiversity, unfortunately, I cannot go too much into detail as I don’t have the expertise, but I know that we follow the European guidelines. When it comes to biodiversity, there are quite a few directives at the European level that are in place and Flanders has actually translated them into its own region, word for word almost. We don’t necessarily go beyond the European ambition, but we definitely don’t go under it, so our commitment is very like the European one. Earlier I spoke about the Natura 2000, that is also a European initiative to which Flanders has actively engaged with and based a lot of its strategies on. We also have general biodiversity strategies, habitat strategies, specific strategies for certain species, so we have more than 10 specific plans for specific species where we want to help reinforce their population or keep it stable.
nrg4SD: Regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as we have heard during the International Conference on Biodiversity, there is a need to double the efforts to reach the ABTs and SDGs if we want to reach those goals. How is Flanders working on the implementation of the SDGs, and how do you see the integration of both agendas?
Flanders: I think during the development and agreement of the 2030 Agenda, a lot of people were involved, including biodiversity experts who knew about the ABTs, so one of the first things that were said when negotiating the SDGs was that we shouldn’t lower the ambition level of what already exists. For instance, the biodiversity targets that are in place for the SDGs, even though they are included in the 2030 Agenda, they have a 2020 deadline. So Flanders also translated it to the Flemish level as 2020. Of course, the question arises what happens after 2020, and that, of course, means consolidating the results of what we have been able to achieve and also to fill the gaps of what we didn’t and to intensify and not slack the pace just because we passed 2020. Also on the European level, we are trying to weigh in on the European negotiations on what happens after 2020, it is really a key year where a lot of long-term strategies need to be renewed so a lot of work is being done in preparation for that. For sure the SDGs will help keep biodiversity on the agenda but the fact that 2020 also applies for the SDGs means that we will need to engage biodiversity outside of it.
nrg4SD: This year during the High-level Political Forum (HLPF), nrg4SD launched the report “Localizing the SDGs: Regional governments paving the way”. Flanders, besides having a strategy on sustainable development towards 2050, is also working to adopt a new document with a horizon to 2030 to incorporate the SDGs in your region. In the same way, the multi-level dialogue has always been fundamental in the implementation of your different strategies. In this sense, Flanders has a very interesting position inside the national government. Can you tell us a bit more about your interaction and how the national government incorporates your efforts into their agenda?
Flanders: Indeed, we have a long-term strategy with vision 2050 that we updated shortly after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, and of course the 2050 date is long past the 2030 so we felt the need to translate the 2030 Agenda to the Flemish level and that is what we have been doing now in a very inclusive process. There has been a lot of thematic councils; for example, environmental, trade, independent business owners, etc. The whole society has been involved, and it has been a very inclusive process just as the international SDGs process. Now we have a zero draft of what this translation looks like and it should be approved by the government shortly. Also, the expert ministries were all involved in this process, so it was more than translating the SDGs into Dutch, but thinking about which ambition level is relevant for Flanders. When it comes to our collaboration with the Belgian federal level, it is actually really easy cause the competences are quite clearly divided among regions and federated state. So, for example, when I talk about the environment, is clear that 80% of environmental goals fall under the regional competences of Flanders, which means if Belgium want to present the Voluntary National Review, they need the inputs of the regions to actually give account of that report cause they don’t have the activities on it as the regions, so it all starts with the competences. Of course, Flanders is very committed to these competences and does a lot to actually adhere to the 2030 Agenda, and in that way it is actually a good cooperation between Belgium and Flanders cause the federal level knows that Flanders takes its actions seriously and we know that Belgium will have to incorporate our messages into theirs, so it is actually a very good cooperation that actually happens very naturally.