Cifal Flanders preaches UN’s sustainable gospel to local leaders


The new Flemish branch of the UN's training centres is touring the region to put the sustainable development goals in the spotlight, and on local agendas

Good for business

As of the end of last year, Flanders is home to one of 15 United Nations training centres that spread the organisation’s sustainable development message around the world. This year, Cifal Flanders will hold events in the city halls of Flanders’ five provincial capitals to convince local lawmakers, entrepreneurs and civil society groups of the importance of the UN’s vision of sustainability. That vision has been translated into 17 Global Goals, also known as Sustainable Development Goals.

At the beginning of this month, the UN flag was raised at Antwerp’s city hall for Cifal Flanders’ first UN City Hall Talk – a seminar on the challenges of realising the Global Goals. It was a logical choice to host the event in Antwerp since Cifal Flanders was born from the Antwerp ITCCO training centre, which has worked to convince business leaders, policymakers and civil society of the need for sustainable action since 2012. The next stop on the city hall talk tour is Ghent.

The talks are held to present the Global Goals through which the UN wants to create a better world by 2030. The Global Goals are best thought of as a hands-on guide to promoting sustainable development, with concrete calls to action for local leaders.

The goals include ending poverty, ensuring sustainable consumption and making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Each goal is split up into concrete targets, such as halving per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030.

Fine examples

The UN lecture series aims to spell out why getting behind the sustainable agenda is good for business. “A great deal of innovative products and services will be necessary to achieve the goals,” says Peter Wollaert, managing director of Cifal Flanders. He adds that one of the main goals is to build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.

During the talks, Cifal highlights local projects that set a good example. The Antwerp audience was, for instance, introduced to the port of Antwerp’s sustainable strategies and the StadsLab2050 initiative – a think-tank that gathers citizens’ ideas. 

Apps and digital platforms boost social entrepreneurship initiatives like car-sharing services

- Peter Wollaert

Under the banner of “smart sustainability”, the talks also emphasise the importance of digital technology. “Apps and digital platforms boost social entrepreneurship initiatives like car-sharing services,” Wollaert (pictured) explains. “But ICT administrators also have to become more aware of, for example, the environmental impact of computer servers.”

The City of Things project, which is turning Antwerp into a real-life lab for intelligent digital products and services, offers another example of a local, smart sustainability initiative.

Cifal Flanders plans to close its region-wide tour with an event in the Flemish parliament in October. “We want to put the Global Goals on the agenda of electoral campaigns for the municipal elections of 2018, and the elections at the regional and federal level in 2019,” says Wollaert.

But Cifal Flanders’ influence reaches beyond the region. At the international level, the centre provides the region with a platform to put local innovative initiatives in the spotlight during UN meetings. This July, it will showcase the region’s sustainability efforts at an event in Flanders House in New York, which represents the region’s interests in the US.

A lazy person’s guide

Several good initiatives are currently underway in Flanders, but there is also a lot of room for improvement, as was illustrated by a recent German study that analysed the extent to which the world’s developed nations are meeting the Global Goals.

Out of the 34 OECD countries, Belgium is the eighth-best at achieving the Global Goals benchmarks. With gender equality in particular, the country has an excellent record, thanks to a relatively small pay gap and a considerable amount of female lawmakers in the federal parliament. The study also noted lawmakers’ efforts to tackle poverty and inequality, which have resulted in a relatively small income gap between the rich and poor.

However, the researchers also noted that Belgium is the OECD country with the worst air pollution, and it ranks among the 10 countries with the worst access to affordable, sustainable energy. The researchers also pointed out that the sustainability of Belgian water resources is in serious jeopardy and that the agricultural sector is not taking sufficient action to prevent environmental degradation.

To better address these areas, Wollaert suggests that the government establish a task force to co-ordinate all legislative action related to the Global Goals across different policy areas. “We need an interdisciplinary dynamic,” he says.

If all this has gotten you inspired to spring into action, but you don’t know where to start, the UN has a practical “Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World” for you. The guide offers tips like “donate what you don’t use”, “report online bullies” and “take short showers”.

Photo: Stefan Dewickere

Sustainable energy

The five main renewable energy sources in Flanders are biomass, biogas, wind energy, solar energy and water power. The renewable energy sector has grown sharply in recent years, with wind and solar energy production especially on the rise.
Agency - The Flemish Energy Agency is responsible for implementing the government’s sustainable energy policies. Its central tasks are to promote rational energy use and environmentally friendly energy production.
Green energy certificates - One of the principal measures to promote sustainable energy are the certificates the Flemish energy regulator (Vreg) awards for electricity generated by renewable energy sources. Since the regulations were tightened in 2012, investments in renewable energy installations have declined.
Obstacles - According to the Flemish Energy Agency, the main challenges in local renewable energy production are the region’s short coast, limited height differences and direct sunlight, and high population density.

new wind turbines created in Flanders in 2013

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million kilowattage of green energy in 2012


percentage of green energy used in Flanders in 2012