Flanders climate neutral by 2050, says minister, as protestors block Wetstraat


Flemish economy and innovation minister Philippe Muyters has earmarked €400 million to be used over the next 20 years to help industry in reaching climate goals, as protestors await a crucial vote on Tuesday

Sit-in at parliament

As climate activists blocked the Wetstraat in Brussels, Flemish innovation minister Philippe Muyters announced an investment of €400 million in research and practical applications that save energy and reduce carbon emissions. The funding, aimed at industry, should help reach the region’s goal of being CO2 neutral by 2050.

The climate change challenge requires efforts from science, industry and society, said the ministry in a statement. “We can only develop a successful climate strategy through decreasing emissions and capturing and re-using CO2.”

It is impossible, according to the statement, to remove carbon from the supply chain, so improving what happens to the waste is the only way forward. “The solution lies in innovation,” said Muyters, who is also the economy minister. “Carbon is a useful product, but we must make significant changes in the way we use it, both in industry and in our daily lives. If we are successful at not only reducing emissions but also capturing it and then using it for something else, that will be invaluable for the climate.”

The €400 million injection, he said, is a “moonshot” – a word used to describe technological projects that are not profitable in the short-term – to jump-start the process. The money will go to research and innovations that are focused on one of the three pillars: Reduce, capture, re-use.

From supertrucks to selling waste

There are currently several examples in Flanders of this kind of circular energy cycle, either in use or in development. AB InBev is experimenting with “supertrucks” that reduce the number of lorries on the road. Ghent University’s Capture programme connects companies that produce by-products with other companies that can use them. Rotor Deconstruction is working to demolish buildings in a way that materials can be reused rather than sent to the dump, decreasing consumption in one of the world’s most waste-oriented industries.

So Flanders “doesn’t have to start from zero,” reads the statement from Muyters’ cabinet. The minister has put Catalisti in charge of co-ordinating the new funding. Catalisti is an umbrella agency that works with chemicals and plastics manufacturers on transitioning to green industrial processes.

“Over the past few decades, industry has worked to reduce its CO2 emissions and improve energy efficiency,” said Catalisti chair Wouter De Geest. “But the challenge we are facing with the whole of society – together with the rest of the world – is gigantic. We must search for new technologies, products, processes and raw materials. Carbon isn’t the problem … We just have to be smarter in how we work with it. As the home base of the largest and most specialised chemical cluster in Europe, Flanders has all the assets necessary to do so.”

A Climate policy can provide a structure in tackling the climate goals that were already agreed to in Paris

- Joeri Thijs of Greenpeace

Muyters’ announcement arrived at the weekend as hundreds of people blocked the Wetstraat in Brussels to demand the passage of a proposal to alter Belgium’s constitution. The protesters, led by more than 70 climate-oriented groups, are demanding that politicians approve the proposal when it comes up for a vote on Tuesday.

The proposal would add a single sentence to Belgium’s constitution to allow the federal parliament to embark on an ambitious climate plan that has already been prepared. While concrete policies would still need to be created from the plan, the plan itself cannot be considered until the constitution is altered.

If the proposal doesn’t pass on Tuesday, it would be for the next legislature in 2024. “That would be a disaster,” Joeri Thijs of Greenpeace told VRT. “Climate policy can provide a structure in this very complex country. It can provide a very clear focus in tackling the climate goals that were already agreed to in Paris.”

Normally a neutral zone where protests are not allowed to take place, the Wetstraat, home to the federal parliament, was the site of the sit-in yesterday. Protesters will be present 24 hours a day until the vote on Tuesday, but moved this morning to the nearby Troonplein following a discussion with police.

Photo: Traffic was redirected on Suday as protestors took to the street in front of the federal parliament
©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA