Accelerating the transition towards sustainable development (10/12/2007)

The publication of the fourth Federal Report on sustainable  development implements the Belgian Act of 5 May  1997 on the Coordination of Federal Sustainable Development  Policy. This Act institutes a strategic process of  reporting, planning, implementation and monitoring in  order to introduce these policies in Belgium at the federal  level. This report proposes two long term (2050)  sustainable development scenarios and assesses the  existing situation, including the current policy on sustainable  development.

The fourth Federal Report is based on a systemic model  (called TransGovern, presented in the third Report and  in STU 4-05) that links changes in the living conditions of  society to government policies. It also applies a backcasting  methodology for developing alternative 2050 scenarios,  with the aim of achieving sustainable development  objectives (SDO) based on commitments endorsed  by the international community. An initial version of  these scenarios was built according to a participatory  approach  combining scenario workshop to expert panel  methods, with a panel of 15 experts from outside the  Federal Planning Bureau. These future scenarios are  presented for the living conditions in Part 1 and for federal  policies in Part 2 of the Report, while the present situation  are described for the living conditions in Part 3  and for the federal policies in Part 4.

The analysis of the evolution of living conditions in four  sub-systems of the Belgian society (consumption and society,  production and society, energy, food) identifies current  trends concerning driving forces, pressures and capital  degradations which can now be anticipated. These are  major societal trends linked to demography (such as individualisation,  ageing, changes in family structure and migration)  and consumption and production (such as tertiarisation,  the information society, technologies and the use of  raw materials), having an impact, inter alia, on the energy  and food sub-systems. Some of the negative pressures  that these trends exert on the three capitals of development
are unsustainable (such as increased elderly dependency,  threats to public health, climate change, scarcity of natural  resources, etc.) and pose, therefore, long term risks to
budgetary balances.

The evaluation of the present situation also covers the  existing sustainable development policy of the two Federal  Sustainable Development Plans (2000-2004 and  2004-2008) as well as of 24 federal thematic plans across  all departments. The overall assessment of the implementation  of the two Federal Sustainable Development  Plans shows that most of their measures have been implemented  but that information is missing on the implementation  of a significant proportion of them (15% for  the first and 39% For the second). The Report also analyses  24 thematic policy plans developed at the federal  level to assess their structure and cross-cutting links  from a sustainable development perspective.

Two scenarios of living conditions evolution help to visualise  the transition towards a world developing sustainably.  The proposed vision of the world by 2050 is  marked out with a set of 21 SDO's which relate to the  protection and the recovery of the human, environmental  and economic capitals. They are named Pyramid and  Mosaic and lead from the existing situation to a world in  2050 that has reached both the SDO's and a pattern of  sustainable development. Their paths are described for  the four abovementioned sub- ystems and largely  based on reversals of the above-mentioned unsustainable  trends.

One of the main differences between these two scenarios  is the degree of international coordination of policies.  This coordination is reinforced in Pyramid, and remains  stable in Mosaic. Another difference is the type of technical  progress and the balance between technological  changes and changes in human consumption and production  patterns. The transformation of the economy is  more oriented towards Industrial Ecology or Circular  Economy in Pyramid and more towards Service Economy  (or Economie de la  onctionalité) in Mosaic. This implies  that the proposed changes in human consumption behaviour  are less demanding in Pyramid. On the other  hand, Energy efficiency is improved by more than a  four-fold increase in the two scenarios but grows faster  (4.6) in Mosaic than in Pyramid (4.2), while labour productivity  grows faster in Pyramid than in Mosaïc.

Scenarios of federal government policies provide guidance  for policies that would support the transition to  sustainable development following the paths of Pyramid  and Mosaic. These should relate to at least five key principles  of sustainable development. Policy proposals at  the Belgian federal level for the above-mentioned subsystems  in the short (2008-2010) and longer (2010-2050)  terms concern support to international policy, coordination  of Belgian federal policy, corporate social responsibility as  well as consumer social responsibility.

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