Belgian sustainability plan a "first"

Ecological tax reform, organic farming, environmental health targeted in four-year government strategy

The Belgian government presented on Tuesday its "first-ever" four-year plan to develop sectors such as energy, agriculture and public health in a sustainable fashion, and to comply with commitments made at a 1992 UN Rio earth summit. The plan's main focus is on energy and climate, according to Catherine Mertens of the Belgian federal council for sustainable development.

Based on the plan and in order to reach goals of cutting national energy consumption by 10%, and greenhouse gases by 7.5%, by 2010 compared with 1990 levels, the government will launch an ecological tax reform, a statement from the secretariat of energy and sustainable development says. This should include taxes on carbon dioxide and jet fuel and a reduction in the tax differential between diesel and petrol. Also on the agenda is differentiated value added tax rates on products according to their environmental friendliness. Annual car tax should be lowered, however.

While recognising that many of the plan's objectives will have to be further defined and carried out at regional level, the central government plan sets specific targets to, for instance, increase the number of organic farms in Belgium by 70% by 2004 so as to cut acidification of soils and water from fertiliser runoff. This is ten percentage points more ambitious then a target included in an earlier draft of the plan publicised at the beginning of the year (ENDS Daily 24 January).

A plan for "environmental health" has yet to be defined, as have measures for marine protection and biodiversity, including GMOs, the statement says. The government should make specific ecological tax reform proposals by July 2001, the statement says.

Follow Up:
Belgian secretariat for energy and sustainable development, tel: +32 2 227 0732; Belgian federal government, tel: +32 2 287 4111. See also the sustainable development plan.

27/10/00 The government's target for increasing organic farm numbers is actually 70% per year between 2000 and 2004 and not 70% over the whole period.

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