INBO Nature Reports Flanders

Nature Report 2023: Working together on the Flemish biodiversity policy of the future

Together with policy makers and experts, INBO investigates in its Nature Report 2023 how by 2030 Flemish policy can achieve the goals of the European Green Deal and the accompanying Biodiversity Strategy. Which barriers hinder policy implementation? And via which pathways can these barriers be overcome? The Nature Report 2023 focuses on the goals that are related to biodiversity as well as climate. Climate change and biodiversity loss are intertwined and reinforce one another. One cannot solve either of them without also dealing with the other. Achieving a sufficiently high quality of life for every one is an important condition for both. We translate the goals of the Green Deal and the Biodiversity Strategy into four main challenges for Flanders.

  • Limit damage from drought and flooding
  • Mitigate climate change
  • Create a well-connected nature network
  • Improve urban life through nature based solutions

Together with experts in nature, agricultural, environmental and urban policy and with academics in the fields of ecology, spatial and urban planning, economics, sociology, public administration and law we investigate:

  • What levers is Flemish policy using to address these challenges?
  • What results has policy accomplished and which barriers hinder it?
  • What could help policy to improve results and overcome these barriers?

The report also identifies win-wins that help address multiple challenges simultaneously.
Based on research with robust and well-founded analyses, the Nature Report 2023 intends to inspire policy makers to shape a number of urgent societal transformations.

: : Limit damage from drought and flooding : :

How can Flemish policy free up space for river processes and increase the water buffering performance of valleys? How can policy restore the hydrology of infiltration and retention areas to reduce peak flows and recharge groundwater stocks?

Drought and flooding are indicators of a disturbed water system. This is caused by human interventions limiting the recharge of groundwater, increasing the water runoff to rivers and reducing the water buffering capacity of rivers and wetlands. Due to the high population density, the related high water consumption and the spatial fragmentation of ecosystems Flanders is extra vulnerable to both drought and flooding. In addition, climate change is increasing the frequency of flooding and prolonged drought.

The issue of water quantity is strongly related to that of water quality. Restoring the water system is crucial to reduce the damage from drought and flooding as well as to achieve water quality targets. Biodiversity is both part of the problem (e.g. desiccation of water dependent nature) and part of the solution. (Temporary) wet ecosystems buffer rain water in ground and surface waters. This reduces the chance of flooding and increases the stability of base flows in rivers in periods of drought.

European and Flemish legislation and policy strategies stress the need for system restoration. Nature based measures are therefore an essential part of the solution.

: : Mitigate climate change : :

How can Flemish policy support the growing bio-based economy while guaranteeing a positive influence on climate and biodiversity goals? To what extent can timber from forest management and biomass flows from nature and landscape management contribute to the Flemish bio-economy? And how is policy giving direction to the use of those biomass flows; under what conditions can they be a source of renewable materials and energy; and when is local carbon storage in soil and landscape the preferred option?

In order to mitigate climate change we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as remove them from the atmosphere. Biodiversity plays a key role in both aspects of climate change mitigation:

  • Natural processes store carbon in soils and biomass.
  • The produced biomass can be used to replace fossil and mineral resources in the production of energy, chemicals and materials. In this way biomass helps to reduce carbon emissions.

With the Green Deal the European Union aims for the transition to a low carbon circular economy. Biomass plays an important role in this. The production of biomass for the resources and products we produce and use in Flanders also has less positive effects on climate and biodiversity:

  • All too often biomass production results in biodiversity loss, more so abroad than in Flanders.
  • When carbon-rich ecosystems are affected, climate change can increase.

The Nature Report 2023 addresses these issues and investigates how Flemish biodiversity, climate and bioeconomy policy can (further) reinforce one another.

: : Create a well-connected nature network : :

Flanders is the most fragmented region of Europe. Nature areas are tiny, spatially isolated and embedded in an intensely used landscape. This makes these areas extra vulnerable for external environmental pressures. Moreover, fragmentation also triggers a loss of species richness, a decrease in genetic diversity and a loss of ecosystem processes.
Climate change fuels this process: natural processes are further disrupted and biodiversity decreases.

Larger, more connected nature areas on the other hand provide more opportunities for organisms and help nature to adapt to climate change. Moreover, such a well-connected nature network generates a number of contributions to people. But what is a well-connected nature network? And what can we learn from the past in order to improve our efforts for nature networks in the future?

European and global policy networks propose a benchmark of 30% protected nature on land and in the sea. For Europe this is the key to a trans-European connected nature network by 2030. In Flanders the development of a nature network has been on the policy agenda since the 1990’s, but all policy initiatives, instruments and measures notwithstanding, the target is still a long way off.

In the Nature Report 2023 we investigate what strategy and levers can bring this goal closer. The report takes into account the perception that property rights are absolute and that financial resources and manpower are limited.

: : Improve urban life through nature based solutions : :

How can nature help improve livability in cities? And which policy and social actors can work together to make this happen?

Cities face major challenges: heat stress, flood risks, drought stress and a limited supply of natural habitats and accessible green space. Climate change, urban sprawl and sociocultural shifts are increasing these challenges. This not only adversely affects urban biodiversity but also the environmental quality, well-being and health of city dwellers. Nature, environment, health and urban policies are betting on a mix of technical solutions (e.g. building renovation, stricter emission standards) and nature-based solutions. The Nature Report 2023 addresses the latter.

Urban greening and green-blue veining can provide an expansion of nature within the city and better connect it to the wider environment. This not only increases the carrying capacity for various plants, animals and other organisms, but also strengthens ecological processes that are useful or pleasant for people. Examples include cooling or retention and infiltration of rainwater. Furthermore, greening and green-blue veining also offer opportunities for a better connection of urban nature with the inhabitants and other users of the city. In this way, nature can contribute to 'living together' in the city.


Previous Nature Reports Publications

Since 1999 the Research Institute for Nature and Forest publishes every two years the Nature Report Flanders. It is officially presented to the Flemish Minister for Environment and Nature. The reports contain indicators, in-depth analysis and evaluations on the state and trend of biodiversity, the results of policy programs and potential scenarios for the future. Since 2014 the synthesis reports are available in English.

The Nature Report Flanders 2020 presents the state and trend of Flemish ecosystems and biodiversity and the most important pressures on them. It also evaluates the extent to which the 6 targets of the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 and Flemish policy goals were met. The policy recommendations are framed along the lines of the new EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030.

The nature reports 2014 through 2018 contain the state, policy and scenario volume of the Flanders Regional Ecosystem Assessment.