Lack of public awareness on the importance of biodiversity makes it challenging to achieve the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and successfully implement National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans (NBSAPs).
This best practice highlights the progress that Belgium is making to raise awareness on biodiversity conservation and its sustainable use through the implementation of its post-2010 NBSAP goals and objectives. Some of the key activities successfully undertaken by Belgium at the regional and federal level to raise biodiversity awareness include: developing policy; organizing campaigns, fairs, exhibitions, public events; celebrating international events related to biodiversity conservation; disseminating information to relevant stakeholders; and building capacities through international cooperation.
This best practice has been repurposed from Belgium’s Fifth National Report to CBD (5NR).
According to the CBD Secretariat, lack of public awareness on the importance of biodiversity ranks as one of the most serious challenges in achieving the objectives of the Convention, Aichi Biodiversity Target (ABT) 1, and the implementation of NBSAPs. Parties have the challenge of developing effective CEPA strategies to implement NBSAPs and to stimulate and engage people to conserve biodiversity and to sustainably use natural resources. According to Belgium’s 5NR, although biodiversity awareness is improving, the importance of biodiversity is still not fully understood by policymakers and stakeholders.
Belgium is a federal state, composed of communities and regions. The regions are in charge of territorial matters. The implementation of CBD is carried out by the federal government, regions, communities and the local authorities (provinces and municipalities). Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) activities related to biodiversity conservation are undertaken in all three regions of Belgium i.e. Flemish region, Walloon region, and Brussels-Capital region, in specific contexts. CEPA activities are also undertaken by the CBD National Focal point, the federal administration, and by numerous stakeholders (universities, scientific institutions, NGOs, provincial and local authorities), each in their field of competence.
Some of the key actions undertaken by Belgium at all levels of governance to promote biodiversity awareness include:
- Policy: Implementing the Aarhus Convention on the right to access environmental information, is integrated into the Environment Code ('Code de l'Environnement'). One of the Code’s objectives is to make environmental information readily available through websites and other technological means.
- Belgium’s NBSAP 2020: Belgium’s latest NBSAP is aligned to the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, and its ABTs. Belgium’s Strategic Objective Eight, aligned to ABT 1, seeks to involve the community in biodiversity conservation through communication, education, public awareness and training. Actions include:
- Incorporating biodiversity, ecosystem services and ecosystem approach into educational programmes (8.1);
- Promoting the understanding and importance of Belgium’s biodiversity and ecosystems (8.2); and
- Raising awareness and providing thematic training courses for sectors that directly or indirectly impact biodiversity (8.3).
- ‘I give life to my planet’ Campaign: The campaign (https://bit.ly/2BLcZBG) is a collaboration of several partners at the federal, regional, provincial, local and NGO-level. The campaign aims to engage people through practical tools and information, encouraging them to take action for biodiversity conservation. The campaign was originally launched in 2007, and aims to run through the entire Decade for Biodiversity 2011-2020. As of 2018, more than 25,000 people have committed themselves to execute more than 100,000 actions to conserve biodiversity. From 2016 onwards, the campaign was enriched with a ‘biodiversity actions machine’ (1001biodiv.be/actions), enabling every visitor to establish a list of actions tailored to their personal situation, needs and wishes.
- In September 2018, the first group of more than 110 businesses, organizations and local authorities signed the Green Deal ‘business & biodiversity’ in Flanders. These commitments cover 1250 ha of industrial estate which will be developed in permanent or temporary natural areas (see https://www.lne.be/green-deal-bedrijven-en-biodiversiteit)
- #BeBiodiversity Campaign: Launched in 2017, this federal campaign has two main objectives: to inform businesses and help them to take voluntary steps to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, and to educate and give citizens and consumers the means to choose more biodiversity-friendly products and producers. The campaign towards consumers includes a website https://bebiodiversity.be and several videos that, among other aspects, explain the link between ordinary consumption and threats to biodiversity and ecosystems. The five latest videos, which can be found in English, French and Dutch on the #BeBiodiversity YouTube channel, were a great success: they were seen more than 500,000 times on Facebook and more than 130,000 times on YouTube. The video « what is the connection between sushi and a turtle » won the Golden Green Award at the 7th Deauville Green Awards festival, in June 2018.
- Fairs, public events and exhibitions:
- Government at all levels – federal and regional, regularly conduct and participate in fairs, conferences, exhibitions, public events and science congresses to disseminate information and raise awareness on biodiversity. In 2010, for example, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences opened a new permanent exhibition hall on ‘biodiversity in cities’, and will open a new exhibition called ‘Living Planet’ in 2019. Numerous additional special events are organized to raise awareness. A few examples of events organized in 2018 are, an exposition in the European Parliament on wildlife trafficking aimed at policy makers, and the event “Biodiversity for Development - A way forward to the SDGs” (see http://www.biodiv.be/cebios2/events/biodiversity-development-way-forward-sdgs).
- On May 20, 2016 Belgium celebrated the 20th anniversary of its ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity. A conference including a debate with young politicians, and the prize ceremony of a public contest inviting bright ideas for actions to support biodiversity were organized in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences: .
- Every year in October Flanders organizes a ‘Week of the forests’. In 2017 theme was forest biodiversity, whereas in 2018 the focus is on schools, who were offered two educative packages to support educative forest excursions for children (see )
- Also, in October the Walloon region organizes its annual International Nature Film Festival (http://www.festivalnaturenamur.be/). With its three international competitions - photos, home movies and professional films - and many outdoor activities, it is now placed among the five biggest European events of its kind, bringing together photographers and filmmakers from around the world.
- Since 1965 the French-speaking Belgian public television channel airs, on Sunday evening, “Le Jardin extraordinaire », a TV program on Nature and environment.
- International Year on Biodiversity (IYB): IYB 2010 was a year-long celebration of biological diversity and its importance. Belgium organized a special event (Bee Party) in July 2010 on the importance of pollinators in daily lives, including a seminar on the taxonomy of African pollinators. More than 4,100 people visited the event. Through 22 info stands, 29 organizations and NGO's presented their work to promote pollination and products that depend on it.
- International Cooperation:
- Between 2011-2012, Belgium supported three projects (Benin, Cameroun and Madagascar) to research possible indicators for ABT 1 and to conduct a baseline study on these indicators. This experience was duplicated in three more countries between 2014 and 2018 (Burundi, DR Congo, Togo). Through the CEBioS project, under the CHM partnership, Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) and Global Taxonomy Initiative (GTI) strategic objectives, more than 70 small projects in eleven countries were implemented to raise public awareness, with the support of the Belgian Development Cooperation (2014-2018).
- The Flemish Fund for Tropical Forests offers financial support to projects on conservation, sustainable management and restoration of forests, mainly in Southern-America. The objective of the selected projects is biodiversity conservation, mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, and support of socio-economic development of local communities. In 2017 project call, 45 proposals were submitted, three of which were selected to start in 2018. www.vlaamsfondstropischbos.be.
- Flanders further supported BIOFIN (UN Biodiversity Finance Initiative) during its first phase focusing on providing support and capacity building through regional nodes to countries requesting technical support in the development of a comprehensive approach towards biodiversity financing. As of 2018, Flanders has renewed its support to the second phase of BIOFIN, this time focusing on one of Flanders focus countries in international cooperation, Malawi (2018-2020).
- Other actions to raise biodiversity awareness include:
- dissemination of information through media, brochures, newsletters, booklets, leaflets, websites; excursions, visits of nature reserves; conducting studies on the value of biodiversity; educational programs for teachers and studies; and online educative kit for schools (http://jedonnevieamaplanete.enclasse.be).
- The home page of the Nature & Forest administration of Flanders gives an overview of activities, events, excursions, coaching in nature, and links to various newsletter: https://www.natuurenbos.be/
- The present selection of examples focusses on actions that are taken by federal and regional governments. Additionally, the Belgium government strongly emphasizes that initiatives by non-government actors can and do play an important role in achieving the goals of the NBSAPs and, ultimately, the ABTs.
- The impact of biodiversity awareness activities will increase through integration and collaboration with partners and other relevant stakeholders.
- For wider dissemination, information on biodiversity and ecosystem services should be made readily available through various technological means such as social media channels, mainstream television networks, etc.
- People should be encouraged to find their own solutions and make suitable pledges.
- The government should provide information about key champions of biodiversity conservation such as teachers, government officials, politicians, NGOs.
- Information centers, such as botanic gardens, protected areas, museums, aquaria, should be optimally used to inform visitors, especially school groups, about biodiversity conservation.
- Policies which support dissemination of information on biodiversity should be promoted, enacted and implemented.
- Information should be shared in an understandable and meaningful way, and messages should be tailored according to the requirement of the stakeholders, for the purpose of training, exchanging experience, sharing know-how and technology.
According to CBD’s latest evaluation entitled “Analysis of Targets Established by Parties and Progress Towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets”, Belgium is not only aligned to ABT 1, but is moving satisfactorily ahead to achieving its national targets on raising biodiversity awareness. The CBD analysis provides a synthesis of national progress towards ABTs, based on information presented in 5NRs.
The aforementioned actions showcase the effective measures undertaken by Belgium to raise the profile of biodiversity among the public and relevant stakeholders.