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The European environment – state and outlook 2010

The European environment – state and outlook 2010

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Nature protection and biodiversity - Outlook 2020 (SOER 2010)

The growth of human populations in Belgium and its impact on land conversion

The human population in Belgium is expected to grow by just under 14 % between 2005 and 20301.

This population growth is expected to be more pronounced in the Brussels-Capital Region (23 %) and Walloon Region (16 %) than in the Flemish Region (12 %). Population growth is likely to lead to an increased land conversion to cater for the need of space for housing, industry, infrastructure, etc. (see section commonality, land-use for more details)

 


Study on the impact of climate change on the Brussels part of the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes) in the Brussels-Capital Region

The Sonian forest (Forêt de Soignes) is a large forest which lies south-east of Brussels and which extends into the territory of the three regions. Currently, this forest is predominantly composed of beech trees, and a number of local factors make this specific beech forest a fragile ecosystem. Recently, the question was raised what the impact of climate change might be on this fragile ecosystem. A study was performed of the Brussels part of this forest, taking into account one of the intermediate scenarios (A1B) from a series composed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC). According to this scenario, by 2100, the Sonian Forest would be subject to climatic conditions comparable to the current climate in the Loire basin. This climate change would imply an increase in the annual average temperature of 3°C and in the average summer temperature of almost 4°C, a decrease in precipitation of approximately 15% in the growing season and of approximately 25% in the summe, an increase in winter precipitation of almost 20% and  an increase both in frequency and intensity of winter storms (lower degree of certainty).

The study shows that these changes have rendered nearly the entire surface area of the forest from ’tolerant‘ in the year 2000 to ’excluded‘ or ’highly excluded‘ for beech forest stands in 2100 (except in the valleys and in a particular zone). These projections may call into question the objective adopted in 2003 by the Brussels Region in its management plan for the Sonian Forest, as it intends to maintain the appearance of the landscape of the ’beech cathedral‘ over 50% of the area of the forest (from a cultural and aesthetic perspective). A review of the management plan seems inevitable if the requirements for the announced changes are to be met (diversification of the species by privileging the species most likely to be able to adapt to the forecast changes). However, some management measures were already adopted to face these changes.

The expected rises in temperature will make it possible for fauna and flora of warmer climatic zones to settle in the local ecoregion and concurrently be the reason why some species will disappear. However, the extent of the impact of climate change on the loss of biodiversity in Belgium is not yet clear.

Acidification and eutrophication outlook in the Flemish Region

Atmospheric eutrophying and acidifying depositions are declining and are expected to further decline until 20304.

If all European targets are met, acidification will by then have a negligible impact on the environment. Eutrophication, on the other hand, will remain problematic, especially for heathland vegetations5, which thrive on soils with a very low fertility.

 


4 Flemish Environment Agency, 2009b

5 INBO, 2009

Study on biodiversity scenarios for 2030 in the Flemish Region

What will be the state of biodiversity in Flanders in 2030 and which policy options are the most effective to halt the loss of biodiversity? Providing answers to those questions should help policy makers in selecting appropriate post-2010-targets.

Six policy scenarios were developed in a participatory way: two degrees of investment to improve the quality of the environment, combined with three strategies in the organisation of the open space. The two environment scenarios are (1) business as usual and (2) increased investments to achieve the European environment targets. The three open-space strategies are (1) business as usual, (2) focusing the efforts on large protected areas and (3) emphasising multi-functionality and cooperation with a variety of actors, e.g. through agri-environment schemes. The open-space strategies are developed within the same government budget.

The modelling started from regional socio-economic prognoses and down-scaled international climate scenarios. The consequences of those developments and of the policy scenarios were calculated, first for land use and environmental quality and subsequently for the future chances for habitats and species.

All investigated scenarios proved beneficial to certain components of biodiversity. All species were better off with an improved environmental quality. Species from marshes and heathland and specialist forest species benefitted more from the large protected areas, while species from agricultural landscapes and common forest species were favoured by the multifunctional landscapes. However, budget restrictions oblige policy-makers to choose.

Comparing biodiversity management by government with biodiversity management in cooperation with nature NGOs demonstrated that this cooperation resulted in more benefits for biodiversity at a lesser government cost.

The results finally demonstrated how policy instruments can be more effective if they are implemented with a clear focus on selected species or habitats, in some cases even without disadvantage for other species or habitats.