Environment in Belgium Essay

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The kingdom of Belgium is known as the “crossroads of Western Europe” because most other western European capitals are located within 1,000 kilometers of the capital city of Brussels. Bordering on the North Sea, the climate of Belgium is temperate with mild winters and wet, cool summers. The topography of Belgium varies from the flat coastal plains of the northwest to hills in the central part of the country to the mountains of the Ardennes Forest in the southeast. Belgium has protected large areas of land, particularly in the Ardennes, which is home to many of the 191 species of birds and the 58 mammal species endemic to Belgium. Close attention is also paid to the peat bogs of the Hautes Fagnes Reserve. Flooding is a constant threat on the coast, and the government has created a protective system of concrete dikes along the 200 square miles of reclaimed coastal land. Belgium’s natural resources are somewhat limited, consisting of construction materials, silica sand, and carbonates. With a per capita income of $31,800, the quality of life in Belgium is among the highest in the world, and the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) Human Development Reports place Belgium in ninth place.

Consequences of Industrialization

Long a leading industrial nation, Belgium continues to be heavily industrialized, particularly in Flanders. As a result, the environment has suffered from intense urbanization, transportation and agricultural contamination, and industrial pollution. The Ministry of Public Health and Environment works closely with provincial and local governments to implement environmental policies derived from the Mature Development Plan, the Environmental Policy Plan, and the Waste Plan. In 2006, a study by Yale University ranked Belgium 39 among 132 nations on environmental performance. Belgium’s chief environmental concerns are acidification and air, water, and soil pollution. Pollutants include nuclear radiation, mercury, pesticides, phosphorous, and other metals. Because of intense urbanization, Belgium is also a major emitter of carbon dioxide.

Less than 3 percent of the Belgian population live in rural areas, and only 1.3 percent of the labor force are involved in agriculture. Intensive use of the pesticide mirex (Dechlorane), which was used as a fire retardant in plastics, rubber, paint, paper, and electric goods, and as a method of controlling fire ants, was common from the 1950s to the 1970s, and residues of mirex have been identified in water emissions and rain water. Belgium subsequently became more environmentally responsible; and since the 1990s, acidifying and eutrophying emissions have dropped by 35 percent due to a decrease in the number of livestock and to more responsible use of fertilizers and nutrients.

Because Belgium is one of the most urbanized countries in the world, household waste has presented major environmental problems. Since 2000, however, much progress has been made in other areas. Energy consumption has begun falling, and a water purification policy has led to lower levels of pollution in ground water. Increased attention to reducing acidification has resulted in decreased rates of DenOx and DeSox units and to a rise in the use of low-sulfur fuels. Additionally, rates of heavy metals identified in wastewater have continued to decrease.

Because Belgium is a federal system, much of the responsibility for environmental policy lies with local governments. In response to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, provincial and local governments began generating action plans for environmental protection and sustainable development. Belgium has expressed its commitment to the environment by signing the following agreements: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution Sulfur 85, Air Pollution – Sulfur 94, Air Pollution – Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands. The agreement to control Air Pollution Persistent Organic Pollutants has been signed but not yet ratified.


  1. Flemish Environment Agency, MIRA Report on the Environment and Nature in Flanders (Mechelen, Belgium, 2003);
  2. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Europe: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003);
  3. UNEP, Europe Regional Report: Chemicals (Global Environment Facility, 2002).

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