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HTML Document Part III: Guiding principles, concepts and approaches

Release date 11/04/2014

The principles, concepts and approaches mentioned here, are seen as the most relevant guiding principles for the interpretation and the implementation of the Strategy.

1. Principle of preventive action

Conservation of biodiversity is better achieved by preventing environmental harm than by endeavouring to remedy or compensate for such harm.

Example: when there is a reasonable alternative for the localisation of a project threatening a high natural value site, this alternative should be chosen instead of compensating for the destruction of the site.

2. Precautionary principle

Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biodiversity, lack of complete scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to avoid or minimise such a threat.

Example: There is as yet no scientific consensus on the causes and consequences of global warming. Nevertheless most countries want to start taking measures now (Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol) to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

3. Polluter Pays principle

Those who cause damage to biodiversity should bear the costs of preventing it, removing it or reducing it.

Example: Many municipalities in Belgium apply the DIFTAR (differentiated tariff for waste removal) system, based on the Polluter Pays principle. With this system, citizens pay on the basis of the amount of waste produced.

4. Public participation and public access to information and justice in environmental matters

The public should have access to environmental information and the right to participate in the environmental decision-making process and to have that participation taken into account in the decision-making process. Effective judicial mechanisms should be accessible to the public, including organisations, so that it can challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities that contravene provisions of law relating to the environment.

These principles are central to the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus, 1998), to which Belgium is a Party.

A participative environment policy must ensure that a balanced “bottom up” / “top down” environment policy is developed. The use of participatory techniques (Vandenabeele & Goorden, 2004) is recommended.

“Public” must be understood in the broad sense; it includes individuals and their associations, organisations or groups as well as governments, regional and local authorities and professionals. Participation in environmental policy making and implementation must be open to the public in general, even where they are not directly or legally involved.

Examples: Information sessions and website access have been organised by the Regions to inform the public about the objectives and implications of Natura 2000.

Information sessions and a public consultation were organised to inform and consult the public during the elaboration of the Second Federal Plan for Sustainable Development.

5. Good governance

Governance is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented. Good governance has eight major characteristics[25]. It is participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It ensures that corruption is minimised, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society.

6. Sectoral integration

Biodiversity conservation and sustainable use concerns are taken into account in relevant decision-making processes in sectoral or cross-sectoral development policies, including the legislative process, plans, programmes and individual decisions.

Examples: The Second Federal Plan for Sustainable Development foresees the integration of all aspects of biodiversity into four action plans within four major Federal sectors: the economy, development cooperation, transport and science policy.

The Flemish Environment and Nature Policy Plan 2003-2007 includes a specific chapter on the integration of environmental issues including biodiversity into four sectors: spatial planning, agriculture, mobility, economy and energy.

7. Ecosystem approach

The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. An ecosystem approach is based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organisation, which encompass the essential structure, processes, functions and interaction between organisms and their environment. It recognises that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of many ecosystems. The ecosystem approach requires adaptive management (CBD Decision V/6)

Example: The BALANS project (2002-2006) stands for “Balancing impacts of human activities in the Belgian part of the North Sea”. It brings together five partners (the Maritime Institute, the Sea Fisheries Department of the Flemish Community, Laboratory Ecotoxicology and the Section of Marine Biology of the University of Ghent, and the Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM) in an attempt to develop a conceptual policy model for fisheries and sand and gravel extraction, in which ecological, economic and social indicators will be balanced in an integrated approach. In its operational phase, the model will help policy-makers take informed decisions in order to achieve a sustainable management of the North Sea[26].

8. Ecological networks

An ecological network is a coherent system of representative core areas, corridors, stepping stones and buffer zones designed and managed in such a way as to preserve biodiversity, maintain or restore ecosystem services* and allow a suitable and sustainable use of natural resources through interconnectivity of its physical elements with the landscape and existing social/institutional structures.

Protected areas usually form the core areas of ecological networks although they can also consist of areas that are under management agreements with farmers or other land use sectors. National and regional systems of protected areas are integrated into a global network of protected areas, meaning that such multi-country coordination mechanisms as are appropriate to supporting the establishment and effective long-term management of such a network are established (based on SBSTTA 9).

9. Subsidiarity principle

The principle of subsidiarity regulates the exercise of powers. According to this principle, matters should be handled by the lowest appropriate level (local, regional or national) that are best placed to take efficient and effective action.

Example: According to the subsidiarity principle, the European Directive on Strategic Environment Assessment provides for a framework of broad principles for environmental assessment systems and leaves the details to Member States.

10. Compensation principle

If, in spite of a negative assessment of the implications for biodiversity and in the absence of alternative solutions, a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, public authorities should take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that no net loss* of biodiversity will occur when the plan or project is implemented or executed.

[25] Source:


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