(L-R) Bruno Alves; Marianne Mousel; André Weidenhaupt; Joëlle Welfring, Luxembourg's Minister of Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development; Mike Wagner; Gilles Biver; Georges Gehl; Credit: MECDD

Luxembourg's Minister of Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development, Joëlle Welfring, recently reviewed the work carried out by her ministry since the last legislative elections (in 2018), particularly since she took office in May 2022.

Minister Welfring noted that her entry into office was marked by major challenges in terms of climate, biodiversity, natural resources and pollution - crises which call for a sustainable and societal transition. In this period of adaptation, it is all the more important, according to the minister, to support citizens, whether through financial aid like the "Klimabonus" or free advisory services like the Klima-Agence (launched in 2022).

Minister Welfring said that the Ministry of Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development had adopted a pragmatic approach guided by ambition, participation and simplification, for example through the digitalisation of procedures and the modernisation of laws, such as those relating to drinking water, forests and the protection of nature and natural resources.

Another example of the work carried out by the ministry over the past five years included the demarcation and classification of fourteen protected areas of national interest (equivalent to 3,355 hectares) since 2018.

Moreover, following the implementation of habitat protection and restoration measures, as well as various species-targeted action plans, several species have experienced a recovery or improvement in their conservation status, notably the beaver, the wolf, the tree frog, the great crested newt and the little owl. Luxembourg's Environment Minister also recalled that the national action plan for the preservation of pollinator insects, adopted in 2021, provides for the implementation of 21 major areas of action by 2026 to improve the living conditions of pollinators and increase their populations. In this context, two calls for projects were launched in July 2022 and August 2023, respectively.

Another notable moment, according to the minister, was the adoption of the law of 30 July 2021 creating a "Naturpakt" (Nature Pact) with municipalities. This law includes measures developed in consultation with stakeholders who contribute to greening and protecting Luxembourg's cities and towns in a context of recurrent droughts and heavy rains. To date, 86 municipalities are participating in the programme.

Regarding watercourses and groundwater, the renaturation measures undertaken as part of the second water management plan (2015-2022) covered a total of 38 kilometres of watercourses. In July 2022, the government adopted the third management plan (valid until 2027) which continues to aim to achieve a good state of watercourses and groundwater.

Significant efforts have also been made in the field of wastewater, noted Minister Welfring: fifteen treatment plants have been built, eight existing treatment plants have been expanded or modernised and the wastewater treatment capacity has increased by 20%. In addition, 280 measures to extend the sewerage network have been put in place and 110 retention basins to manage rainwater have been built.

Moreover, the second flood risk management plan (2021-2027) was presented in 2021. After the floods that summer, the flood zone and flood risk maps were updated, with the forecast floods and the establishment of municipal concepts for the management of risks linked to flash floods forming the basis of an update of this plan (adopted in March 2023).

Regarding drinking water supply, the minister recalled the modernisation of the law on drinking water. Improvements included an update of drinking water quality standards.

The national programme against atmospheric pollution was submitted to the European Commission in 2021. The update of policies and measures relating to ammonia emissions was approved in July 2023. Similarly, the national air quality plan proposed measures to improve air quality; the Government Council (Cabinet) approved this plan in June 2021 before its transmission to the European Commission. In addition, four noise action plans were updated during 2020, and the ministry recently announced financial aid to improve sound insulation against aircraft noise.

As part of the "Null Offall Lëtzebuerg" strategy of 2018, and the "Offall-a Ressourcëpak" measures, a series of public consultations on the subject of household waste and recycling were organised over a period of more than a year.

In terms of climate protection, Minister Welfring noted that the climate objectives have been achieved, but major challenges persist. The integrated national energy and climate plan focuses primarily on measures to avoid or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A first version of this plan (2021-2030) was adopted in 2020. The draft update adopted by the government in July 2023 took into account feedback from public consultations. In total, 42 contributions were received, including nineteen from citizens and 23 from organisations. Moreover, the provisional inventory of greenhouse gas emissions for 2022 showed that the objectives have been achieved overall.

In order to support municipalities to better adapt to the effects of climate change, a call for urban greening projects ("Méi Natur an eise Stied an Dierfer") was launched in 2022. Such calls for projects will now launch annually. In addition, all municipalities participate in the Climate Pact, with 60% of them meeting at least half of the objectives set within this framework.

Regarding financial aid, nearly 127,300 requests have been submitted since 2019 within the framework of PrimeHouse/KlimaBonus, for electric bicycles and electric cars. In the spirit of administrative simplification, three out of four bonus schemes were digitalised within one year: the charging terminals scheme in 2022 and the bicycles/pedelecs and Klimabonus Wunnen schemes in 2023.

On the subject of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Minister Welfring noted that the third sustainable development plan, adopted in December 2019, constitutes the national instrument for implementing the 2030 Agenda. She added that a stakeholder consultation process was undertaken and the results were integrated into this plan. Other initiatives undertaken since 2019 to promote sustainable development in Luxembourg included the launch of the BNE Fair and its digital platform, presenting the educational material available in the field of education for sustainable development, as well as the creation of nohalteg.lu (in 2022), offering a centralised source of information in this area. Moreover, the Communes 2030 tool was developed to allow municipalities to evaluate and communicate their sustainable development approach and, in 2023, the "Nohaltegkeetscheck" instrument was introduced into the legislative procedure where it contributes to rethinking the way to legislate and guarantee better political coherence in matters of sustainable development.

"It is an extremely important task to bring climate and nature protection into line with people's needs," said Minister Welfring. "My ministry and my three administrations have put together the framework for this. Even if a whole series of measures are in place today, it is now important to implement this on the ground together with the people. And always according to the principle that the [best] way should also be the simplest and most effective."