Occupy For Climate: Protesters push for climate law at the Belgian Parliament

Climate protesters spent the night in front of the Belgian Parliament building on Rue de la Loi to pressure the country’s legislators to allow for the creation of a special climate law.

In particular, the protesters led by Greenpeace Belgium are demanding amendments to Article 7bis of the Belgian Constitution to enable the adoption of a law that will bind the Belgian government to commitments made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But last Tuesday, members of the parliament’s Constitutional Reform Committee made it clear they will not support the revision of Article 7bis.

The ‘Occupy for Climate’ demonstrators are not giving up. They intend to keep protesting at the Belgian Parliament until tomorrow when the Constitutional Reform Committee makes a final decision on the controversial issue.

What is Article 7bis?

Article 7bis states that Belgium’s federal state, regions, and communities are under obligation to protect the environment and to pursue the aims of sustainable development in public policies. However, the article doesn’t contain specific targets or actions to achieve its goals.

Flemish and Francophone academics present proposed climate law at the Chamber of Representatives

What are the contents of the proposed special climate law?

The bill was developed by a group of academics from various universities and presented on February 1 at the Chamber of Representatives. It contains 20 articles and highlights the creation of several new institutions to coordinate the climate policy of the federal state, regions, and language communities of Belgium.

The most controversial sections involve raising the greenhouse gas reduction targets to at least 65% by 2030 and 95% by 2050 from 1990 levels; increasing the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption to 32%; and improving energy efficiency by at least 32.5% by 2030.

Why the need to amend the constitution for a climate law?

In Belgium, a special law is required in matters concerning the competences of the regions and communities of Belgium. It can only be passed by a double majority of affirmative votes. This translates to a two-thirds majority in the parliament, and a simple majority in both the Flemish-speaking and French-speaking language groups.

The proposed law was submitted for review to the administrative court of Belgium or the Council of State. On March 4, the Council issued an opinion essentially saying that it would take more than just a special law to impose the quantified objectives of the bill on the autonomous regions and communities of Belgium.

Instead, the State Council proposed six options to facilitate the bill. One of them was to revise Article 7bis of the Belgian Constitution by adding a provision that will allow the setting of specific climate targets in legislation.

To make changes to the constitution, the federal parliament must first approve, by absolute majority, a Declaration of Revision of the Constitution which must specify the articles to be amended.

The declaration must be approved by legislators before the Chamber of Representatives is dissolved. After the federal elections in May, the new legislature can amend the provisions that have been declared revisable.

Which parties are for and against the proposal?

The ecologists (Ecolo-Groen), the socialists (PS, sp.a), the French-speaking Christian democrats (cdH), the Democratic, Federalist, Independent party (DéFI), and the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB) are in favor of a climate law.

Governing parties MR (Reformist Movement), CD&V (Christian Democratic and Flemish), and Open VLD (Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats) have opposed the bill. The nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) is also against it.

Prime Minister Charles Michel of the liberal MR has spoken in favor of a non-binding cooperation agreement instead of a law. According to the liberals, renegotiating the constitution could trigger sensitive discussions on further decentralization of powers in Belgium.

Amending the constitution is a much-avoided topic in Belgium. Opening that door could give Flemish and Francophone parties the opportunity to push their own agenda and demand more autonomy.