With a population of 1.8 million people, the Brussels Capital Region is home to the institutions of the European Union, and can be described as a model city for the European Commission’s climate and energy policies with its 20-20-20 targets for 2020 – in other words, a 20% reduction in GHG emissions, a 20% improvement in energy efficiency, and a 20% share of renewables in the energy mix. The Commission chose to emphasize energy efficiency as the easiest way forward, and especially energy efficiency in buildings, which can be responsible for up to 80% of GHG emissions in bigger cities.
Brussels has long had an environmental agenda with a primary focus on energy efficiency, which helped the city reduce its energy consumption by 16% per capita, and reduce its GHG emissions by 18% per capita between 2004 and 2010. Since 2004, the city has offered energy subsidies and green loans to both individuals and businesses for renovations of buildings through different programs, and each year, Brussels environmental department invites Brussels’ families to participate in an “Energy Challenge” to help them reduce their energy bills through simple steps in their homes.
The city also is retrofitting its own buildings, which so far has saved more than 11 MWh of energy through renovation of 70 public buildings. And in the program Sustainable Neighborhood Contracts, the city renovated and develops whole neighborhoods in cooperation with residents, with a focus on environmental and sustainable development, including quality public space, housing insulation, water management, renewable local energy, and recreational facilities.
In 2007, Brussels launched the Exemplary Buildings program, to encourage construction or renovation of buildings with very low energy consumption. The program became a success with 256 houses renovated and 117 built to a low energy standard, and 13 houses renovated and 340 built to an even more efficient passive standard. The share of passive houses in the total construction of housing in Brussels rose, reaching more than 50% in 2014, and paving the way for the Passive 2015 project, in which Brussels mandated the passive standard for all new buildings – a first in Europe. The mandate defines the passive house standard as a net heating requirement of less than 15kWh per square meter per year, and a primary energy consumption for heating, hot water and electrical accessories of less than 45 kWh per square meter per year.
Investing in renewables
Brussels Capital Region also has had great success with renewables, introducing green certificates for renewable energy producers, and providing more than €100 million in support. This has resulted in a surge of rooftop solar installations over the last five years – 206,000 square meters of PV panels, roughly equivalent to the area of 41 football fields. The city has plans for a solar map and for mandated solar installations on public buildings, in addition to a program encouraging urban micro-wind turbines. Brussels has furthermore made major investments outside the region, especially in erecting offshore wind turbines in the North Sea. This has allowed the city to reach a 47% share of renewables in its electricity grid through imports.
Modal shift in transportation
In transportation, Brussels is experiencing a modal shift as a result of 15 years of transport plans. Cycling has quadrupled since 1998, while the use of regional public transport increased by 94% between 2000 and 2011, and car use for travelling between home and work fell by 17% between 2004 and 2011. Brussels aims to reduce traffic by 20% by 2018 compared to 2011. The city sponsors cycling and public transport in a number of ways. There are several bike- and car-sharing schemes, including electric vehicle car sharing. There are comprehensive networks of dedicated bike and pedestrian routes. The city encourages people to reduce private car use via Company Mobility Plans, Sundays Without Cars and the innovative Bruxell'AIR bonus, which offers incentives for people who give up their cars – for instance, a one-year pass for public transport and a one-year car-sharing subscription are offered to a resident who gives up a car and returns the license plates.
In 2012 Brussels was rewarded EU’s Sustainable Energy Award for its efforts in energy efficiency in buildings. Brussels was one of the first cities to sign the Covenant of Mayors in 2009, after which it adopted an Action Plan for a Low-Carbon Brussels Region by 2025 and adopted the goal of reducing GHG emissions by 30% by 2025. The city wants to become a model city for sustainable development in the coming years. In the new Regional Sustainable Development Plan all regional policies are structured around this vision.
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Siemens, European Green City Index, Brussels_Belgium, http://www.siemens.com/entry/cc/features/greencityindex_international/all/en/pdf/brussels.pdf
EU, “European Green Capital Award 2015: Expert Panel – Synopsis Technical Assessment Report” http://ec.europa.eu/environment/europeangreencapital/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Synopsis-EGCA-2015-Technical-Assessment-Report.pdf
Brussels Environment, Brussels, Sustainable City, http://www.sustainablecity.be//
be.passive, Special issue 01: Brussels goes passive, www.bepassive.be/intl/special01en/
Brussels Capital Region, “Vers une region Bruxelloise sobre en carbone a l'horizon 2025” http://documentation.bruxellesenvironnement.be/documents/RBC_carbone_2025_PacteMaires_SEAP_FR.PDF?langtype=2060
Text by: Martin Jacobson
Last edited: 2017-03-15