Artikel (06/03/2007)

Energy policy and the climate issue: a challenge for Belgium

This paper sheds light on several challenges related to the development of the energy system in Belgium up to 2050, taking into account constraints on the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) in a European context. It is based on two studies carried out by the Federal Planning Bureau in 2006 that deal with the related energy and climate change issues.

Two different approaches are presented according to the time horizon of the analyses. Each approach focuses on different policy frameworks for reducing GHG emissions, reflecting the inertia of the energy system from both the production and the consumption sides. By the year 2030, the major element of policy will be carbon pricing. Indeed, a period of 20 to 25 years is often seen as too short for the development and deployment of a wide range of low-carbon and high-efficient energy technologies and for profound behavioural changes. Carbon pricing leads to energy price increases according to the carbon content of fuels and results in appropriate changes in energy production and consumption patterns. By the year 2050, however, it will be possible to implement more structural policies. This part of the paper describes transformations of the energy system and society that are significantly contributing to the achievement of a sustainable development. These transformations could materialise thanks to policies targeted to produce changes in technologies and in behaviours, leading to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions ranging from 50% to 80% between 1990 and 2050.

For the period up to 2030, a reference projection of the Belgian energy system has first been elaborated. This projection shows an increase in GHG emissions of 20% in 2030 compared to those for 1990 and energy imports meeting up to 95% of Belgian primary energy requirements, despite the development of renewable energy sources and noticeable improvements in energy efficiency.

Two alternative scenarios have then been considered that are both compatible with the 30% reduction objective in EU-level GHG emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. The difference between the two scenarios lies in the use of nuclear energy for electricity generation: in one scenario, the law on the nuclear phase-out is implemented; in the other, nuclear power production is assumed to continue. The approach used for allocating the European reduction objective among Member States is based on the criterion of economic efficiency. According to this criterion, a common carbon price is set at EU level and emission reductions take place wherever they are  cheapest. The carbon price corresponding to a 30% EU reduction target is estimated to 200 euro/t CO2 eq. The consequence of this value for Belgium is a 12% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 compared to those for 1990 in the scenario without nuclear energy and a 26% reduction in the scenario with nuclear energy. The paper then compares the effects on the structure of the energy mix, the level of energy demand, the deployment of energy technologies and the average cost of electricity production and describes the energy policy challenges that are raised in both scenarios.

Finally, the evaluation of the economic impact of climate policies in Belgium is taken from the FPB study carried out in 2006: it deals with reductions in GHG emissions of 4.8% and 13.7% by 2020 compared to 1990.

By the year 2050, a more extended set of policies can be considered than by 2030. Nevertheless, Belgium will face several policy challenges in order to reduce its GHG emissions by 50-80%, consistent with the European objective of limiting global warming to 2°C. Technological challenges include, among others, developing zero emission engines (based on hydrogen fuel cells) or low emission engines (using fossil fuels), and developing renewable energy technologies and carbon capture and storage systems. Behavioural challenges include developing demand management policies, limiting the rebound effect when improving energy efficiency, triggering a modal shift to public transport, increasing building renovations with better insulation levels and lowering the meat content of the average Belgian diet. This paper concludes that, to reach the necessary emission reductions, policies on technology and behaviour must be combined. There is thus a need to improve knowledge about these two fields and their integration.

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