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This Planning Paper explores the usefulness and the need for long-term visions of society's development to guide the achievement of a sustainable society. Such a future society is able to combine material wealth improvements with social equity and justice and to limit its environmental impact to a level within the Earth's self-recovery capabilities. Government initiatives already taken in several industrialized countries to help respond to this need are reviewed. This review covers different levels of governance, from the sub-national to the global level, with a particular focus on the Belgian Federal Sustainable Development (SD) strategy adopted in a Parliamentary Act of 1997. It analyses in particular the content and the follow-up of the 2010 revision of this Act, which has introduced a long-term vision for Sustainable Development in this strategy.
The first part of the Planning Paper gives an overview of various long-term vision applications from the last decade. It defines this concept in the context of foresight exercises as well as of long-term strategies. It reviews the case of Belgium at the federal and regional levels. Belgian Federal SD Plans from now on will be based on this vision and contain the concrete measures that are deemed necessary to achieve the long-term objectives included in the vision. The Paper also reviews the objectives of the Europe 2020 and EU SD strategies and their interrelations. While the Europe 2020 strategy is presented as the cornerstone of EU policy, a new EU SD strategy announced by the European Council for 2014 will have to integrate both the objectives of Europe 2020 as well as the follow-up of the Rio+20 commitments. It also describes efforts made to elaborate long-term visions of an ideal society in a series of industrialised countries. Finally, it stresses the important outcome of the Rio+20 Conference in launching the adoption of SD goals at the global level and the need for a coherent overarching framework of goals shared by all countries, including common strategic goals at the EU level.
The second part of the Planning Paper describes the elaboration process of the 2050 long-term vision endorsed by the Federal Government in the Royal Decree to be voted late March 2013. This process was organized according to the above-mentioned Act of 1997, coordinating the Federal SD policy and stipulating that the long-term vision has to comprise 2050 objectives, intermediary goals by decennia, and indicators for monitoring implementation progress. Developing such an ambitious long-term vision has required the use of expertise from public authorities and civil society, but also the participation of members of parliament. In cooperation with the special parliamentary Commission on Climate and Sustainable Development, the official process was launched in June 2011, on the basis of an evaluation of twenty years of Federal political action for SD (see: Twenty Years of Political Commitment to Sustainable Development? Federal Report on Sustainable Development 2011. November 2011, FPB, D/2011/7433/33). After this launch, each actor in the Federal strategy played its part in defining specific goals up to 2050 in view of Belgium's international commitments on SD.
The Planning Paper describes the specific contributions of the Federal Planning Bureau at the outset of the vision elaboration process as well as the work of the federal administration, coordinated by the Inderdepartmental Commission on SD, and the various inputs of civil society, coordinated by the Federal Council for SD. It also focusses on elements of parliamentary commission debates based on these inputs. The conclusion of this second part underlines the existence of important common points shared by all these contributions but also areas of divergence, indicating the necessity to gain even more public support for SD. Based on the review of various initiatives to draw up a sustainable society and the in-depth analysis of the creation of a "sustainable development vision" at the Belgian federal level, the final conclusion of the Paper comes back to the usefulness of and need for such a process. It reiterates that instruments guiding the transition towards sustainable lifestyles in the coming decades demand as much attention as efforts to live more sustainably now and that these instruments and efforts can be mutually supportive.