The environment is not just like any ordinary subject due to the simple fact that pollution does not stop at borders. So it is at an international level that impetus must be given and binding or not binding objectives could be set. In fact, some 80% of Belgian environmental law is determined by international conventions and European legislation.
Belgium is a State with a refined institutional structure. The federal government and the regions have shared responsibility for environmental matters. What is more, under this shared responsibility, DG Environment is charged with coordinating international environmental policy. Therefore, it either works on subjects which are its sole remit or it coordinates certain aspects of implementation of matters for which the regions have authority. Consultation is thus imperative to working out a point of view shared by all the different bodies concerned. This task is important because Belgium has to speak with a single voice in the international arena.
DG Environment has set a number of strategic objectives for its international policy. First, it aims to be pro-active: i.e. to influence decision-making further upstream. Second, it seeks to involve the regions closely and take the views of Stakeholders into account more (namely, industries, NGOs, trade unions and consumers). Finally, it tries to guarantee that environmental concerns are taken into consideration in other European or international policies.
The service is made up of the following units:
The CCIEP is the Coordinating Committee for International Environmental Policy. Structured on working groups of regional and federal experts, the CCIEP, when meeting in plenary session, is made up of representatives of the ministrers and administrations concerned. Its task is twofold: to prepare the positions defended by Belgium at an international level and to lay the groundwork for ratification and/or transposition of international agreements or European legislation. It also coordinates the preparation of reports Belgium must submit to these bodies.
The ICE is the Interministerial Conference for Environmental. It brings together the federal and regional ministers in charge of the environment, it covers both internal and international environmental policy.
Political officials and citizens are attaching ever greater importance to the repercussions of the environment on health. At an international level, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe has taken the lead. It sponsors a thematic conference every five years. The conference held in June 2004, in Budapest, addressed the impact of the environment on children's health. Belgium, in keeping with its undertaking to the WHO, has developed a national environment-health plan known as NEHAP (National Environment Health Action Plan). It is now being implemented in the form of four projects on product policy and indoor pollution, the development of a specific web site, the participation in a network of cities working on outdoor and indoor air quality issues (EPHEIS), and the feasibility of environment-health indicators.
Belgium has ratified the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. The text must now be developed as part of a national strategy and sector-specific action plans. Although in first line a regional responsibility, biodiversity requires considerable coordination and implementation by the International Affairs service of DG Environment.
The question of GMOs is also handled in this unit (essentially from the standpoint of its environmental dimension), which makes up the national focal point for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety governing the use and transboundary movements of GMOs.
The Aarhus Convention is a United Nations Convention which establishes new rights for the public in terms of access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice in the environmental sphere. Belgium has ratified this convention. DG Environment is making every effort to translate these rights into reality, whether in the context of the preparation of new legal texts or through communication actions which give all categories of the public easy access to environmental information.
Sustainable development tries to safeguard the rights of future generations to live in a viable environment. It integrates the economic, social and environmental pillars on an equitable basis. The aim is to stimulate a transversal approach at federal, European and international levels. Accordingly, this unit works to establish coordination with the other administrations whose policies either have a direct impact on the environment (e.g. FPS Mobility, Energy and Economy) or allow adjustments in the use of natural resources (e.g. FPS Finance and Trade). The aim is to integrate environmental considerations into each of these sectors and to ensure consistency between parallel policies. The unit cooperates with the Federal Planning Service for Sustainable Development, charged, among other tasks, with the development and coordinated implementation of the four-year Federal Sustainable Development Plan.
This unit provides a liaison with the European programme LIFE-ENVIRONMENT .
The Marine Environment unit was created recently. Its members share three main types of tasks: coordinating, preparing, participating in and following up on international activities relating to the marine environment; managing and making available equipment to combat marine pollution (fuel pollution); and participating in the coast watch. It covers also the international instruments relevant in this field like the OSPAR convention.