In the context of the international negotiations under the United Nations, Belgium has committed to develop a low carbon development strategy. Such a strategy must be defined in the context of the European commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% to 95% in 2050 compared to their 1990 level. To prepare for a Belgian low carbon strategy, Climact and VITO carried out a study in 2013 for the Federal Public Service Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment. The study shows that various low carbon pathways are possible and societal choices are required to properly support the transition to a low carbon society. Given the uncertainties arising from a horizon as long term as 2050, a scenario approach was used to analyze a variety of potential outcomes under various assumptions.
The rationale behind the launch of the scenario approach relates to limits, in such a context of transformational, non-marginal changes, of computable economic models traditionally used in policy making. According to Vincent Van Steenberghe, climate expert at the Climate Change Section, traditional economic models fail to account for the full set of behavioral or lifestyle change possibilities and to make links with potentially important related issues or co-benefits. Those aspects are, nevertheless, important enablers for realizing abruptive change and for building resilient and climate proof societies according to transition management.
Engaging experts, NGOs, business representatives and academics formed the core basis for discussions during thematic workshops. More than a hundred experts were consulted on several occasions during 1,5 year to discuss the ambition level feasible for numerous technical emission reduction solutions across different sectors. The ambition levels take into account the visions and perspectives of more than hundred experts about changes in lifestyles and technical potential for decarbonizing the Belgian society.
Five decarbonization scenarios were developed against a reference scenario: (i) the CORE scenario, (ii) the BEHAVIOUR scenario, (iii) the TECHNOLOGY scenario, (iv) the 95% REDUCTION scenario, and (v) the EU INTEGRATION scenario. The scenarios differentiate in the amount of emission reductions and in how the Belgian society can reach the goal of 80%, 87% and 95% of emission reductions (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Comparison of the GHG emission reductions in all scenarios (emissions in MtCO2e per year)
While the CORE scenario does not push all levers to their maximum, the BEHAVIOUR scenario relies the most on emission reductions through changes in behavior and lifestyles and relies less on technological levers. This scenario assumes that “all necessary cultural, structural, organizational and institutional changes needed to make possible this type of behavioral change are implemented”. Examples are more investment in public transport, more working at home, climate change awareness etc. Hence the BEHAVIOUR scenario identifies potential in changes in the demand: transport demand in the transport sector, energy demand in the buildings sector, demand for meat production in the agriculture sector, to name just a few.
The key findings of the study are the following:
- Intermittent energy sources will increase significantly. They are manageable but require large interconnection, back-up and demand-side management measures;
- Sustainable biomass will likely be important for the low carbon transition. Carbon capture and storage could also play a significant role but raises concerns regarding its feasibility and potential risks;
- Fossil fuels are drastically reduced and renewables increase manifold;
- Lowering energy demand is key;
- The share of electricity in the energy mix must rise significantly and can be provided by renewables;
- In the agriculture sector the technical potential for reduction is relatively limited. Behavioral changes, such as eating less meat, can play an important role.;
- In the industry sector, energy efficiency and process improvements will allow further emission reductions. International competition needs to be taken into account;
- In the building sector the renovation rate of existing buildings must increase and fossil fuel heating systems must be replaced by environmental heating systems;
- In the transport sector, reduced mobility demand and electrification play a key role.
The key findings of the report hint to numerous areas where sustainable innovations need and will make a difference in building a low carbon society in Belgium. Additionally, the findings reveal that a combination of behavioral change and technological solutions are the way forward according to more than 100 experts.
Climate action, Public participation
Relevant tags: scenario approach, behavioural change, transition management, low carbon stratety, Social innovation, Technological innovation, Sustainable lifestyles