systems are more and more reaching their limits: we face the important
challenge of meeting both our present and future needs within the capacity of
In the new
MIRA publication "System Balance 2017", we examine to what extent the
energy, mobility and food systems in Flanders are in environmental balance and
what system changes are needed.
MIRA publication is part of the assignment to describe and analyse the state of
the environment in Flanders and is complementary to the 200 or so environmental
indicators that can be consulted on the website of the Flanders Environment
Report (MIRA), www.milieurapport.be.
Despite improvements in environmental quality,
the energy, mobility, and food systems continue to have a major impact on the
environment in Flanders
Although the energy intensity of Flanders – this
is the amount of energy needed per unit gross domestic product – is 23 % below
the level recorded in 2000, Flanders clearly remains more energy-intensive than
its neighbouring countries. Fossil fuels still account for three-quarters of
the energy supplied to households, industry, transport, agriculture, trade
& services, as compared to one-fifth for electricity. However, advanced
electrification of energy consumption results in reduced environmental
pressure, especially when electricity is generated through renewable energy
sources. The bulk of energy end use in Flanders goes to climate control and hot
water (31 %), industrial process heat (30 %) and transport (24 %) (the
remainder goes to electrical devices and lighting).
Despite the significant decrease in emissions of
air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, transport
remains a major source of harmful substances for people and the environment.
Road traffic emissions in particular are responsible for the environmental
pressure from passenger transport. The number of passengers-kilometres of
motorised transport (including rail), however, continues to increase. Company
cars increasingly contribute to the intensity of road traffic; households with
a company car travel more kilometres, both for commuting and for personal
business. In recent years, there has been no further modal shift to
environmentally friendly travel. Not only environmental problems but also
structural congestions indicate that the current mobility system in Flanders is
running up against its limits.
Like other production
and consumption systems, our food system also has a major impact on the
environment. Technological progress and increasing knowledge were responsible
for a significant reduction in environmental pressure from Flemish agriculture
per unit output in the 1990s. Over the last decade, however, the rate of these
environmental efficiency improvements has dropped whilst the challenges remain
immense, in particular for meeting the European targets for water quality and
biodiversity. Also the environmental pressure from food consumption is high, and
for a large part originates from outside of Flanders. For greenhouse gases, for
example, this is over four-fifths.
are indispensable to meet our existing and future needs within the capacity of
To make the switch to a low-carbon economy, the
societal systems in Flanders need to undergo a real transition. The price evolution
of energy sources and techniques, the social acceptance, and the changing
international framework are only a few factors that will determine the path of
the energy transition. Also the way in which we will or will not adjust our
spatial planning over the next decades, will help to determine the final path.
However, choices in the energy system need to be made now if we want to get on
the right path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 % by 2050.
Solutions reside in combining higher energy efficiency, e.g. through the
development of heat networks, and further transition to renewable energy
sources such as solar power, additional wind energy both offshore and onshore,
sustainable production of biomass, etc. Furthermore, such an approach contributes
to a higher level of self-sufficiency and a more stable energy supply in
Flanders, which does not have its own, economically viable fossil energy
sources and uranium.
For the mobility system, too, a number of
socio-economic developments and technological advances could improve the
environmental impact. Examples are the advent of electric bikes and cars, car
sharing, teleworking, etc. It is, however, not obvious that this potential is
also being used optimally; rebound effects are never far away. Just as with the
necessary transitions in the other two examined societal systems, the
government has a key role to play here, for example, by developing a widely
supported long-term vision, the necessary infrastructure, the right price
signals, and a regulatory framework for innovative technologies and new
business models. Here, too, we see that spatial planning in Flanders is
essential to tackle the mobility issues at source.
The extent and geographical scope of
environmental challenges call for structural innovations throughout the food
system. Changes in production and distribution chains and in individual
consumer behaviour should mutually reinforce each other. More sustainable food
production, for example, often results in higher costs for farmers. A
breakthrough is therefore only possible if the consumer is prepared to pay a
price that covers the actual costs and if that price is reflected in higher
margins for farmers. Higher margins can also be achieved by paying farmers for
ecosystem services such as long-term carbon storage in grasslands.
o More information and the full report
o MIRA contact: Marleen Van
o Press contact: Katrien Smet (firstname.lastname@example.org)