Combating climate change and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions which cause it is a priority at international, European and national levels alike. Though the regional authorities are responsible for air pollution matters, the federal government is also involved in actions to fight climate change. Indeed, the federal level has powers in a number of areas (taxation, energy, transport, etc.) where it can intervene through a variety of instruments. One such instrument, which comes within the remit of DG Environment, is "Products Policy". A federal climate policy fund has been established.
At DG Environment, a new division dedicated exclusively to climate change was created in 2003. It has a reinforced team of specialised officials. This division plays a vital role of coordination with other federal public services, and with the departments concerned at a regional level. It serves as the secretariat for the CCIEP Greenhouse Effect Coordination Group and plays the role of "climate focal point", i.e. an interface with the European and international institutions concerned. The Climate Change service also centralises the follow-up of Belgian, European and international climate policy negotiations. It serves as the interim secretariat for the National Climate Commission, set in place in 2003 under a cooperation agreement between the state and the regions.
Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and as a result of various obligations imposed by the European Union, Belgium has undertaken to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 7.5% (from 1990 levels) in the run-up to 2008-2012. The three regions and the federal government recently concluded a burden-sharing agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In this context, the federal government is taking measures which supplement the efforts being made by the regions under their respective climate plans, to guarantee that Belgium respects its international undertakings. In conformity with Kyoto and European legislation, each country has the possibility of using flexibility mechanisms, i.e. negotiating emissions rights (for greenhouse gases) either by buying such rights from a state which has exceeded its own reduction objectives, or in exchange for an investment in a "clean" project in a third country, whether an industrialised or a developing nation. Actions taken by the state at a federal level include both domestic measures (reduction of real emission levels in Belgium) and the complementary use of the flexibility mechanisms.
DG Environment's responsibilities for protecting stratospheric ozone are also handled by this service.
The Climate Change service addresses the following issues.
The service is responsible for implementing federal climate policy, with the ultimate aim of meeting the Kyoto commitments. One of the major challenges is to put the Federal Climate Plan on track. This plan will constitute the federal chapter of the new National Climate Plan (which will include the regions' actions in a coherent whole). The federal chapter will be implemented primarily through the measures decided by the Council of Ministers meeting in Ostende on 20 March 2004.
Follow-up of the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP) – the framework within which the European Union is developing its policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – forms an integral part of the division's responsibilities.
The Kyoto Protocol makes provision for the use of flexibility mechanisms. A European directive governs emissions trading by companies on the European market. A range of instruments and structures first has to be set in place before these mechanisms can become operational in Belgium: a national register, to record emission credits/allowances bought; and the national allocation plan, which sets emission ceilings for various installations. The service is closely involved in the work of setting up these structures. Likewise, it is actively preparing the introduction of the system for emissions trading based on calls for proposals. It is also putting the finishing touches on the emissions rights register, a genuine electronic exchange where trading will take place.
The division provides coordination for the drafting of different reports to European and international bodies in the context of Belgium's reporting obligations. This involves the communication of essential information such as estimates of greenhouse gas emissions, projections of emissions, national programmes being implemented, implementation and performance indicators for policies and measures under national programmes, and so on. Coordination in this area takes place through the CCIEP thematic groups, particularly with regard to harmonising methodologies, developing relevant indicators and respecting reporting deadlines.
The service also handles the coordination of national policy on ozone-depleting substances, including ties with European and international policy.