First National Report of Belgium
to the Convention on Biological Diversity


Preface by Yvan Ylieff, Federal Minister for Scientific Policy

The Rio Conference and the signature of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, were an opportunity for Belgium, as well as for other signatory countries, to become aware of the essential need to associate classical criteria of development and general welfare to criteria of environmental conservation and of support to a livable society for future generations.

As federal Minister for Scientific Policy, I am in charge of the scientific aspects of the Belgian Federal Policy for a sustainable development, and of the set up of the international agreements signed in Rio.

For this purpose, I have contributed to the creation and the installation of the Federal Council for Sustainable Development and of an Interdepartemental Commission, in charge of making a Federal Plan for Sustainable Development. In June 1996, I proposed the Council of Ministers the adoption of an ambitious long-term Plan for Scientific Support in Decision-Making for the Sustainable Development Policy by the Federal Government.

This Plan for Scientific Support, amounting to 3 billion BEF, finances research activities of which an important part is dedicated to the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, namely through the programs Global Change, North Sea, Telsat and Antarctica.

In addition to a number of research contracts depending on this plan, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences and the Royal Museum for Central Africa, two federal scientific institutions, are the bearers of the expertise in taxonomy, systematics, ecology and nature conservancy, needed to reach the aims of the Convention on Biological Diversity, at the Belgian level as well as at the international level.

The Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, National Focal Point for the follow-up of the Convention on Biological Diversity, plays a pilot role in the set up of the Convention at national level. This Institute becomes therefore a reference for political decisions in conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. This major role is reinforced by hooting the Management Unit of the Mathematic Models of the North Sea and the Scheldt Estuary, an authoritative department in monitoring and protection of the marine environment. The launching of a National Clearing-House website on the Internet allowed Belgium to become the fifth country in the world to set up that obligation of the Convention.

With the edition of this First National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Belgium again takes an essential step forward in sustainable development. This precious tool, prepared with the support of different decision levels in a dynamic and multidisciplinary approach, is the first step towards a national strategy and action plan for biological diversity.

I wish that such future efforts will be supported and developed, in order to offer to future generations the essential tools for the preservation of diverse and sustainable societies.


Preface by Jan Peeters, Federal State Secretary for Security, Social Integration and Environment

I am particularly happy to introduce this First National Report of Belgium. It represents an attempt to convey to our partners (the Parties) an overview of the ways and means chosen by the various parts of my -ecologically and politically diverse- country to meet the challenges of the Convention. As State Secretary of the Federal Government, my responsibilities in the area of nature conservation are limited to the marine areas under federal jurisdiction. It has been a frustrating realization all along that these areas at present remain limited to the territorial sea, i.e. a zone of 12 nautical miles from the shore. Belgium has therefore made it a priority, in the aftermath of the ministerial North Sea Conferences, to extend the jurisdiction of the coastal State to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) beyond the territorial sea. A bill establishing the Belgian EEZ has recently been approved by the Cabinet, a first step towards a sustainable environmental management in the entire marine area of interest to Belgium.

The second step is of course more complex. Management requires a precise knowledge of what is to be managed, of existing options, of their consequences and side-effects, and of the means required to implement them. The public authorities at all levels need guidance in these matters. They also need powers that only the law can provide. A firm legal reference is therefore a prerequisite of any action of the State in the marine environment. I accordingly instructed my services to lay the bases of a general bill on the protection of the marine environment which would place an emphasis on protected areas and on the conservation of species. In July of last year, I was pleased to table a comprehensive and ambitious text, and to obtain Cabinet approval on what will soon become, after adoption by the Parliament, the Law on the protection of the marine environment in the marine spaces under Belgium's jurisdiction.

Land and sea remaining in close ecological relationship all along the Belgian coast, I am fully supportive of the concept of integrated marine and coastal area management. The integration sought in this principle requires that the authorities responsible for marine management on the one hand, and the authorities responsible on land on the other hand, accept some level of control of their activities by one another. Since the beginning of 1997, the services of the Federal Government and the Ministry of the Flemish Community co-operate with non-governmental organisations to create a continuum of nature reservations extending from the polders to the open sea. Under the name ‘Integral Coastal Conservation Initiative', this project is partly funded by the European Commission under the LIFE-NATURE programme. It covers four years and runs on a total budget of 100.8 million BEF.

Needless to say, the many international treaties for the protection of the marine environment to which Belgium is a party all play a part in meeting the general goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Well-tried mechanisms of co-ordination between the federal Government of Belgium and the Governments of Belgium's three Regions -such as the existing North Sea Technical Commission (MNZ)- should continue to show their usefulness and efficiency in implementing these treaties. Together with the new legislative initiatives I have outlined above they will, I am sure, significantly contribute to the conservation and restoration of the invaluable biological diversity of our marine environment.


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