National targets

Title Rationale Aichi targets
Objective 4 - Ensure and promote the sustainable use of components of biodiversity

The sustainable use of biodiversity refers to “the use of components of biodiversity in a way and at a rate that does not lead to the long-term decline of biological diversity, thereby maintaining its potential to meet the needs and aspirations of present and future generations” (CBD art. 2). This concept is based on the assumption that it is possible to use biodiversity in a manner in which ecological processes, species and genetic variability remain above the thresholds needed for long-term viability, and that therefore all resource managers and users have the responsibility to ensure that that use does not exceed these capacities.

Non-sustainable activities with a negative impact on biodiversity must be identified (see Operational objective 2.1) and options developed in order to minimise these impacts. Synergies between economic growth, social progress and ecological balance in the long run should be created, with quality of life as the central factor. A well-thought equitable and fair management of our natural resources will be a key element for the sustainable use of our biodiversity. It is crucial to ensure that ecosystems are capable of sustaining the ecological services on which both biodiversity and the human population depend.

The Ecological Footprint tries to face this challenge. It measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes under prevailing technology, and it enables people to track progress towards sustainability.

Calculated footprints are estimations based on assumptions which are used as a communication tool to help individuals, organisations, and governments formulate policies, set targets and track progress towards sustainability (WWF, 2005).

The Belgian Ecological Footprint is about 4.9 ha per inhabitant (WWF, 2004), when the earth’s carrying biocapacity is only 1.8 ha per person. This means that surface used by the average Belgian is over 170 % larger than that which the planet can regenerate. This finding indicates that Belgium’s ecological stocks are being depleted faster than nature can regenerate them.

4. Sustainable production and consumption
Objective 4.1.1 - Identify and promote good practices involving the sustainable use of biodiversity.

Existing good practices involving sustainable use of biodiversity in various areas of activity (agriculture, fishery, forestry, hunting, tourism, etc.) must be identified, compiled and made widely accessible. Furthermore, bad practices (and lessons learnt) also need to be highlighted and publicised widely.

The establishment of such compilation documents will be compulsory for the stakeholders (farmers, fishermen, hunters, etc.) and will represent a significant step forward towards sustainable use of our biodiversity.

1. Awareness increased
Objective 4.2 - Sustainable products, consumption and production policies

Not only consumption patterns but also the production processes for many products may adversely impact on biodiversity (unsustainable use of natural resources, overexploitation, use of harmful substances, habitat destruction, impacts of surface water pollution on biodiversity, etc.). These impacts are rarely apparent at the point of purchase or use so that we continue to use products that destroy our biodiversity, even when alternatives exist. Not only consumption patterns but also the production processes for many products may adversely impact on biodiversity (unsustainable use of natural resources, overexploitation, use of harmful substances, habitat destruction, impacts of surface water pollution on biodiversity, etc.). These impacts are rarely apparent at the point of purchase or use so that we continue to use products that destroy our biodiversity, even when alternatives exist.

4. Sustainable production and consumption
Objective 4.2.1 - Avoid or minimise the risk to biodiversity posed by production and consumption, products and services.

Products and good practices that have a positive impact on biodiversity have to be promoted to the entire chain from producers to consumers. Unsustainable production and consumption patterns (food, energy, water, travel, waste, etc.) need to be changed, for example through eco-design, eco-performance and appropriate product standardisation. Consumers can impact on biodiversity by adapting their consumption patterns (for example by opting for certified products, by consuming local and diversified products or by deciding not to consume specific products).

There is a need to identify and evaluate negative impacts of unsustainable patterns on biodiversity and to ensure that markets reflect environmental costs. The lifecycle approach should be used to reduce environmental impacts along the production chain.

A consistent message also needs to be given to consumers so as to guide them to take sustainable consumption decisions. For example, the world’s growing demand for biomass energy or meat creates pressure to extend industrial crop cultivation area, threatening not only agricultural biodiversity but also wild ecosystems. Public awareness of consumption behaviours increasing such threats should be raised. Furthermore, there is a need to influence suppliers to provide biodiversity-friendly products.

1. Awareness increased
Objective 4.2.2 - Adopt biodiversity criteria in public procurement policies to prevent biodiversity loss.

Public authorities are major consumers. In Europe, for example, they spend 16 % of the EU’s gross domestic product. By using their purchasing power to purchase goods and services that also respect the environment and biodiversity, they can make an important contribution towards sustainable development. Public authorities can also show citizens, enterprises and organisations how they can really change their attitudes by making the right consumer choices.

Green public procurement can have a positive direct or indirect impact on biodiversity. It covers areas such as transport and construction, office equipment, recyclable paper, organic food in canteens and activities in developing countries with support from Belgian authorities.

Initiatives have already been taken in Belgium to use green procurement policies in order to promote goods that are less harmful to the environment (for instance, promotion of the use of wood products originating from sustainable forests or inclusion of environmental - including biodiversity - criteria in the procurement procedure for Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation).

In 2006, the Belgian Parliament passed a new law on public procurement that provides some opportunities to integrate sustainable (biodiversity) criteria in public procurement procedures.

3. Incentives reformed
Objective 4.3 - Agriculture

The importance of agriculture for the natural environment and for biodiversity is emphasised by the fact that nearly half the land surface in Belgium is farmed. Farming is an activity which goes beyond simple food production, affecting and using natural resources such as soil and water. Over the centuries, farming has contributed to the creation and maintenance of a large variety of agricultural landscapes (fields, pastures, quickset hedges, mixed woodland and pasture, etc.) which provide important semi-natural habitats for wildlife. Furthermore, the agricultural sector plays a multi-functional role as a food producer, biodiversity manager, motor for the economy in rural areas and guarantor of in situ conservation of local species, varieties and domestic animal breeds. However, in recent decades, intensification and specialisation of agriculture, and at the same time marginalisation of land, have resulted in significant biodiversity loss in and around farmland. Farmland bird populations in particular have shown a decline over last decades.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), together with broader developmental dynamics of the agricultural sector has only gradually taken on concerns regarding biodiversity loss. The CAP has its roots in 1950s Western Europe, whose societies had been damaged by years of war, and where agriculture had been crippled and food supplies could not be guaranteed. The emphasis of the early CAP was on encouraging better productivity in the food chain so that consumers had a stable supply of affordable food. The CAP offered subsidies and guaranteed prices to farmers, thus providing them with incentives to produce, and a viable income. Financial assistance was provided for the restructuring of farming, for example by aiding farm investment, aiming to ensure that farms increased in size and that farmers developed management and technology skills so that they were adapted to the economic and social climate of the day. Although successful in reaching its original objectives, this policy also lead to reducing high nature value farmlands, the removal of hedgerows and the draining of wetlands, and intensification exerted a variety of pressures on ecosystems (high fertilizer and chemicals inputs, drainage, increasing cutting frequencies, grazing pressures, early mowing, over sizing of agricultural parcels).

Since 1992, however, the CAP has been adapted to better integrate biodiversity needs. Increasing use of agri-environment measures, Good Farming Practice, organic farming and the support of Less Favoured Areas have favoured farmland biodiversity. The 2003 CAP reform promotes these and other pro-biodiversity measures. Measures under market and income policy, including mandatory cross-compliance, the single farm payment (decoupling) and modulation, should have provided indirect benefits to biodiversity. These measures have been implemented at EU level since 2005. The on-going reform of the CAP (2013) goes a step further in this direction by introducing a Greening Payment as an essential part of the direct payments to farmers.

Reducing pressure on biodiversity from agriculture is a big challenge for farmers in Belgium because our agriculture is one of the most intensive, specialised and productive in Europe. Furthermore, farmers are currently facing serious challenges with regard to the continuation of their profession. The number of farmers is decreasing every year. They leave the profession for various reasons, including competitive pressures from the market, compensation for the drop in prices by a rise in the cultivated area and risks posed by the move towards energetic crops. Between 2000 and 2010, 19,072 farms ceased their activities (30.8 per cent of Belgian farmers) with the total agricultural area decreasing only slightly (decrease of 2.6 per cent), so that the average area per farm is growing (FPS Economy - Directorate-general Statistics Belgium, agriculture census 2000 and 2010).

7. Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Objective 4.3.1 - Promote measures favourable to biodiversity under the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The ongoing CAP reform provides for the introduction of a payment for agricultural practices that are beneficial to the climate and the environment within the direct payment scheme, the Greening Payment. From 1/1/2015, 30 % of the budgetary envelope for direct payments will be assigned to this kind of mandatory measures. The payment will reward the delivery of environmental public goods that go beyond cross-compliance and promote sustainable production. Farmers who receive first-pillar payments will receive the Greening payment (except for organic farms and small scale farms) when they respect the 3 basic measures:

  • maintaining permanent grassland
  • crop diversification
  • maintaining an “ecological focus area” of at least 5 % of the arable area of the holding for farms with an arable area larger than 15 hectares. The Commission can propose to increase this figure to 7 %, on the basis of a Commission report in 2017, by presenting a new legislative proposal. This measure can contribute to the establishement of the green infrastructure.

During the mid-term interim review of the CAP in 2002, it was decided that the whole-farm payments made by the CAP would be backed up by a compulsory set of cross-compliance requirements, covering environmental, food safety, plant and animal health and animal welfare standards. Farmers should observe a minimum level of environmental standards and have to maintain agricultural land in good agricultural and environmental condition as a condition for the full granting of the CAP direct payments. With the on-going CAP-reform the list has been simplified to exclude rules where there are no clear and controllable obligations for farmers. The CAP imposes the framework of cross-compliance criteria. As a Member State, Belgium only has limited freedom in defining its minimum requirements for a good agricultural and environmental condition.

Environmental cross-compliance criteria address the conservation of habitats through ecologically managed Natura 2000 areas, and protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources. These cross-compliance criteria are based on articles emanating from specific European directives, such as the Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC and the Directive on the conservation of wild birds 2009/147. The requirements for good agricultural and environmental condition include inter alia the retention of landscape features.

This operational objective aims to stimulate authorities and farmers to implement the Greening payment and cross-compliance in a way that delivers a real profit to biodiversity.

7. Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Objective 4.3.2 - Enhance and encourage the role of farmers as biodiversity actors.

The role of farmers as actors for biodiversity protection through implementation of good farming practices and technologies should be encouraged. Farmers play a key role in agro-ecosystems, protecting and enhancing the environment, biodiversity, natural resources, soil and genetic diversity (for instance, crop rotation, organic farming and set-aside of small land parcels) and maintaining the landscape and the countryside (for instance, maintenance of open environments, management of linear and small landscape features, ecological compensation areas*). In several areas, semi-natural habitats can be preserved only if appropriate farming activities are continued.

Apart from the principle that farmers should observe a minimum level of environmental standards (cross-compliance) as a condition for the full granting of the CAP direct payments, the CAP provides financial incentives called “agri-environmental measures” within the framework of the rural development policy (see also 4c.4). These measures support specific farming practices that go beyond the baseline level set by the cross-compliance obligations and help to protect the environment and maintain the countryside.

Farmers who commit themselves, for a five-year minimum period, to adopt environmentally-friendly farming techniques that go beyond cross-compliance obligations, receive in return payments that compensate for additional costs and loss of income that arise as a result of altered farming practices. Examples of commitments covered by regional agri-environmental schemes are: environmentally favourable extensification of farming; management of low-intensity pasture systems; integrated farm management; preservation of landscape and historical features such as hedgerows, ditches and woods; conservation of high-value habitats and their associated biodiversity.

This operational objective complements the previous one, by targeting the development of clear and detailed guidance at exactly what farmers should do to implement cross-compliance criteria and agri-environmental measures. This could be achieved for example through the establishment of guidelines that will provide an easy and understandable way of getting information across given that the wording of CAP reform is rather complex. Continuous appropriate education of and the provision of information to farmers, farm contractors, agriculture advisers and teachers in agricultural colleges are crucial. For instance, guidebooks, workshops, conferences, publications and information campaigns could address the following issues: soil management best practices, impacts of pesticides on wild fauna, the establishment of set-aside strips and their appropriate management for fauna and flora preservation, soil erosion control or landscape improvement, importance of the preservation of notable indigenous farmland trees and other small landscape elements, the protection of breeding wildlife and nests in pasture and fields, the protection of ponds and rivers from pollution from manure, etc.

1. Awareness increased
Objective 4.3.3 - Promote agricultural diversification.

Agricultural diversification can be defined as all gainful activities by farmers outside agricultural core activities, i.e. outside production zones. This operational objective aims to encourage agricultural diversification that specifically benefits biodiversity and to support creative research into new diversification possibilities that can stimulate the conservation of local biodiversity, including traditional varieties. The system of advisory councils could provide guidance to farmers interested in diversification. Diversification is promoted in the Rural Development Policy and can be further promoted by the Regional Rural Development Plans.

Agricultural diversification can meet the demand for varied quality products as well as rural recreation activities and at the same time stimulate public interest in biodiversity conservation. It can lead to an increase in a product’s added value and farms’ profitability and to an improvement in the image of agriculture. Creative solutions could also seek to meet sanitary constraints of neighbourhood production, promote the interests of consumers and ensure access of the products concerned to the market.

Examples of such diversification activities in rural areas are (i) assisting in the management of nature reserves, (ii) the development of agricultural and nature tourism which arouse the interest of the public in biodiversity conservation, (iii) organic production of fruit and vegetables or organically reared chickens, (iv) neighbourhood production such as farm cheese, ancient varieties of fruit and vegetables, snails, and (v) other initiatives that reduce standardisation of agricultural production.

7. Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Objective 4.3.4 - Promote the integration of biodiversity into rural development.

Agricultural and environmental policies must give farmers complementary signals if environmentally sound agricultural practices are to be applied to a sufficient extent. A new policy for rural development was introduced in 1999 as the second pillar of the CAP. This second pillar of the CAP aims to accompany market and income policy (“first pillar”) by providing financial aid to farmers in order to influence rural structures. In its revised version for the period 2014-2020, the Rural Development Policy still includes important biodiversity-friendly measures, like agri-environmental measures, compensatory schemes in Natura 2000 sites, ecological forest-management aid, etc. They have to be scheduled by a national (regional) rural development programme and are co-financed by the EU. These measures can be a useful financial instrument for farmers who face a drop in income as they comply with the set regulations.

One of the six Union priorities for rural development in the period 2014-2020 is restoring, preserving and enhancing ecosystems related to agriculture and forestry with one focus area on “restoring, and preserving and enhancing biodiversity, including in Natura 2000 areas, areas facing natural or other specific constraints and high nature value farming, and the state of European landscapes “. Besides, at least 30 % of the rural development programmes' budget will have to be allocated to agri-environmental measures, support for organic farming, forestry measures or projects associated with environmentally friendly investment or innovation measures. Agri-environmental measures are obligatory for all programmes and will be stepped up to complement greening practices. These measures will have to set and meet higher environmental protection targets (guarantee against double funding).

Another important tool in rural development regulation for promoting the integration of biodiversity that the Member states may chose to use is the “non-productive investments ” support. Support could be granted to investments linked to the achievement of agri-environment-climate objectives including biodiversity conservation status of species and habitat as well as enhancing the public amenity value of a Natura 2000 area or other high nature value systems to be defined in the programme.

Therefore, one priority of this Strategy is to integrate biodiversity aspects better and more clearly in current and future rural development plans. In particular, the elaboration of rural development plans for the period 2014-2020 will be an occasion to streamline integration of biodiversity in these plans at Belgian level.

Furthermore, policies for nature conservation and rural development must take into account the commitments of the Kiev Resolution on biodiversity (2003) which foresees (i) the identification, using agreed common criteria, of all high nature value (HNV) areas in agricultural ecosystems in the pan-European region and (ii) their biodiversity-friendly management through appropriate measures (e.g. instruments of rural development). Designation of HNV and integration of ad hoc protection tools should be fully implemented in the Rural Development Plan.

1. Awareness increased