Belgium pushes the pedal on sustainability with bold carbon neutrality goal 

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Despite being a small and highly developed country that outperforms other nations in terms of income, education, health, and quality of life, Belgium has never ranked high on the sustainability scale. In fact, according to recent statistics, Belgium is the 11th biggest carbon polluter in the European Union, producing an estimated 9.7 metric tons of CO₂ per capita. 

As expected, Belgium’s carbon emissions have fluctuated over time, but have always remained relatively high compared to other European countries. From 1970 to 1983, Belgium registered a 27% decrease in annual CO₂ emissions. However, in just seven years, emissions surged from 109.3 MtCO₂ to 126.5 MtCO₂ and the upward trend continued in the following years, reaching 136 MtCO₂ by 2000. After a substantial decline to 109 MtCO₂ in 2014, figures revealed a rise of 16 MtCO₂ in 2018. 

Belgium’s large carbon footprint can be largely attributed to the high population density and the intensive industrialization of the economic sector. But with countries around the world ramping up their efforts to protect the environment and manage climate risks, Belgium is also seeking to achieve a sustainable transformation through decarbonization. After all, we’re talking about the de facto capital of the European Union and one of the three official seats of the European institutions, alongside Luxembourg and Strasbourg. 

With ambitious goals to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, Belgium has the potential to establish itself as Europe’s green hub, but it’s definitely not going to be an easy transition. So, let’s take a closer look at Belgium’s sustainability objectives, opportunities and challenges as it embarks on its long journey to net zero.  

Sustainability doesn’t exclude growth and profitability – it sustains them 

Under the Paris Agreement, 196 parties have committed to act on climate change and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Belgium is one of the countries that adopted a net zero target set for mid-century, but is this a feasible plan given the country’s current emission rates? While sustainability has become a top priority on many countries’ agendas, concerns regarding the impact that the implementation of emission reduction measures might have on economic growth are also an important part of the conversation. 

At the business level, many companies worry that complying with CO2 emission standards is not something they’ll be able to sustain financially and could affect their bottom line. However, studies show that sustainability can in fact have a positive impact on revenue, leading to higher profits. Companies that invest in waste management solutions such as compactors, cardboard balers or presse a carton (in French), recycling services and other eco-friendly solutions to reduce their carbon footprint have better chances at driving revenue growth. 

A report from consulting firm McKinsey seems to confirm this theory. According to their findings, Belgium can achieve their green growth objectives while still maintaining a strong economic development. If things go according to plan, apart from addressing critical environmental issues like loss of biodiversity, rising pollution, resource depletion and so on, Belgium will also be able to improve energy security and benefit from numerous growth opportunities.

One of the opportunities that Belgium could leverage as the race towards net zero accelerates is the storage, processing and trading of green fuel and supplies. Being located at the crossroads of Europe, Belgium could easily position itself as a green gateway, facilitating the transit of hydrogen, ammonia, green methanol and ethanol, recycled plastics, synthetic fuels and other resources all across the European Union.  

The global need for tech equipment and engineering solutions required for generating wind, solar, and hydrogen energy is expected to grow into a €1.1 trillion market by 2040. Belgium is already a strong player in the renewable energy space, having companies that specialize in the installation of offshore windmills and cables, so it could seize a large share of this thriving market.   

Similarly, Belgium could benefit from strengthening its position in the recycling industry. The country is already a notable player in the field, accounting for 40% of battery recycling and 20% of copper and stainless-steel recycling in Europe. With the market value of scrap materials expected to increase from €25 billion to €35 billion by 2040, Belgium could eye a revenue of between €1 billion and €2 billion. 

€415 billion worth of investment away from achieving net zero

While the growth opportunities presented by green development abound, the path is not going to be smooth or free of risks. McKinsey’s report identifies several major challenges that Belgium will have to overcome to achieve its net zero objective. 

First, Belgium will have to make sure that the future energy-efficiency solutions and climate technologies required to reduce emissions will also match companies’ and organizations’ needs in order to ensure their competitiveness. 

It’s also important for decision-makers to find solutions regarding Belgium’s long-term electricity mix. This will require staying on top of internal production and energy imports as well as the variations in supply and demand dynamics. 

Improving the energy efficiency of Belgian households and lowering their emissions is another aspect that can pose serious challenges, which would imply measures such as rebuilding, retrofitting, increasing contractor capacity and so on. 

Investment-wise, the path to net zero will require a massive financial effort on Belgium’s part, which is to be expected given the major transformations lying ahead. Considering all the measures that Belgium will have to implement and the associated expenses, the total investment will probably amount to €415 billion. This means that 2-3% of Belgium’s GDP each year will have to be routed towards its carbon neutrality pledge. 

Final thoughts 

Like many other countries around the world, Belgium is also ramping up its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. Achieving net zero by 2050 is definitely a very ambitious target that will require both sizeable investments and sustained efforts. However, the growth opportunities and the benefits that can result if Belgium manages to reach this target should serve as a major incentive in this respect.  

Also Read:  Entrex Carbon Market: Legitimizing the Carbon Offset Marketplace



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