Director-General: Pierre Kerkhofs
Mission :“Our multidisciplinary team devises, develops and is responsible for an integrated and preventive federal environmental policy that is a pioneer of sustainable development in order to ensure a quality environment for everyone.”
Everyone aspires to live in a healthy environment. In Belgium, the public authorities are making a particular effort to transform this right recognised by the Constitution into a reality for all. In our country, the three regions have responsibility for most environmental matters. The federal government, however, and specifically DG Environment, retains important prerogatives. The Directorate-General's activities focus on:
- framing an integrated product policy
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions in keeping with the commitments made under the Kyoto Protocol
- policymaking in respect of the release on the market of chemical products and the prevention of risks from non-ionising radiation (mobile phones) and from noise pollution
- conducting inspections related to the release on the market, authorisation and use of these products
- ensuring the follow-up of the international environment policy and the co-ordination of it with the Regions
- protecting the North Sea
DG Environment is taking a great number of initiatives in all these areas. In parallel, it provides vital coordination for all the parties concerned with the environment: other Federal Public Services and especially the three regions. Indeed, these matters require numerous interactions and consistency is imperative. Furthermore, DG Environment acts as an interface with Europe and with international partners. This pivotal role is all the more vital since environmental legislation is largely determined by international and European law.
DG Environment is made up of five services, which are themselves divided into units.
This service organises and manages the CCIEP, the Coordinating Committee for International Environmental Policy. Composed of representatives of the relevant ministries and administrations (at federal and regional levels), the CCIEP relies on the support of specific working groups. Its task is twofold: it prepares the positions defended by Belgium in the international arena and lays the groundwork for ratification and/or transposition of international agreements and European legislation. This service also deals with the specific issues with a strong international dimension that are part of the core competences of DG Environment : biodiversity and biosafety, environment and health and the marine environment. It also sees to the implementation of the International Aarhus Convention, which grants the public specific rights in matters of access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.
This service ensures that products placed on the market are increasingly environmentally friendly. Environmental impact is taken into account at every stage of product life cycle: from inception to manufacture, distribution and disposal. Certain products undergo very close scrutiny due to their particular environmental impact: vehicles, electrical and electronic equipments, packaging, machines for outdoor use and building materials.
The Product Policy service also exercises strict control over the marketing of products which release ozone precursors: cars, boilers and so on. To encourage sustainable production and consumption patterns, the division uses legal instruments (binding standards), economic instruments (e.g. subsidies) and socio-educational instruments (public information campaigns).
The North Sea is the source of huge natural resources. Fishermen pick up fruits from the sea, pipes bring gas to the population, cables enable communication with the whole world, sand and gravel extraction provide material for the construction industry, windmills produce green electricity. Moreover, touristic activities are thriving throughout the coastline and navigation routes force their way among the sandbanks.
Since 2004, protection of marine environment in the North Sea has been a responsibility of the Marine Environment department of directorate-general Environment. To combine the values of nature with the numerous activities at sea is a major challenge. The Marine Environment department contributes to sustainable management of the North Sea by coordinating policies, by preventing and reducing pollution and damage to or disruption of the environment, and by monitoring the impact of activities carried out at sea. This department also plays an active role in the scope of European and multilateral marine policies, and has jurisdiction for setting out and adapting the marine spatial plan. Experts of the Marine Environment department can only carry out their duties through cooperation with all partners, organizations and companies that are active in and around the North Sea.
With this service, DG Environment controls the placing on the market of dangerous substances and preparations as well as biocides (non-agricultural pesticides). Thanks to impetus provided by the European Union, procedures for the market release of chemical products are increasingly strict. REACH, the new European system, will oblige companies to demonstrate that a chemical substance presents an acceptable level of risk before it can be approved for marketing. It used to be the responsibility of the public administrations to prove that a substance was dangerous. This service also issues authorisations for waste shipments through Belgium.
The Environment Inspection service monitors compliance with environmental laws and standards. Every year, thousands of checks are carried out on the ground, putting an end to infringements and producing a deterrent effect. The inspection service is divided into two main branches. One team of inspectors checks compliance with regulations governing the placing on the market of dangerous substances and preparations. Another keeps track of the marketing conditions of pesticides and biocides and ensures that fumigations are carried out in accordance with existing regulations. This service is also responsible for monitoring the Paardenmarkt, a depository of World War I munitions situated off the coast of Knokke-Heist.
This service plays a central role in the environment policy Belgium implements at international, European, national and federal levels so as to respect its climate change and Kyoto commitments. Concretely, the Climate Group service coordinates international climate policy through the secretariat of the CCIEP Greenhouse Effect Coordination Group and through its role as National Focal Point for climate policy. The service is also responsible for putting in place the structures required for the Kyoto Protocol flexibility mechanisms. The Climate Change service also ensures that data required in the context of international obligations is transmitted to the relevant authorities. At a national level, the service plays a key role in providing follow-up of the National Climate Plan and in the development of federal actions.
DG Environment's Office Management reports directly to the Director-General's office. What is unique about it is that it carries out transversal functions which serve the entire Directorate. Unlike the other five sections working on specific subjects,Office Management generally does not deal with the substance of different issues. It concentrates on the smooth running of the administrative machinery of the entire DG. Its challenge consists in guaranteeing the effectiveness and quality of all tasks – large and small – vital to the smooth working of the service.