What a difference can a province make? Lots! Here is the story of how one determined governor, 44 mayors and a whole region are turning the page of history.
Let me first tell you a bit about Limburg. It is situated in the northeast of Belgium, having Holland and Germany as neighbours. Known for its cheeses and coalmines, Limburg’s population totals 838,505. In 2008, the energy mix in the province was: 12.5% nuclear; 16% coal; 32% gas; 3.5% biomass; 35% petrol and 1% others. The electricity use per sector was: households 19.5%; transport 1% industry 61% and small offices and schools 18.5%.
The governor, Reynders, took the lead in creating a carbon reduction agenda for the region to become climate neutral by 2020. How?
Here I tell you:
The first step was to draw a scientific study to determine the actions that needed to be taken in order to reduce carbon emissions and system to measure their progress.
They created a Climate Parliament in which representatives from 70 different organisations, ranging from trade unions and employer organisations to colleges and universities meet to discuss the action plan. The parliament allows citizens to participate, decide and support the various activities the province will implement to cut carbon emissions.
They set up do-tanks dedicated to clean technology with specific focus on different segments, such as mobility, building, and nature. Those do-tanks elaborate projects and set the priorities for carbon reduction in those areas for the coming years.
The media is taking an active role in providing information on the plan and targets to a climate neutral province. There are citizens who embraced the role of climate ambassadors to promote and engage not only the residents but also the different segments of business, showing the benefits and opportunities that arise from curbing CO2 emissions.
The Limburg governors and the 44 mayors know that by investing on emissions cut will bring new business to the region.
These are the concrete actions decided:
- the construction of a district heating grid from the power station at Langerlo to the urban agglomerates of Hasselt and Genk (approx. 40,000 homes);
- The replacement of conventional industrial heating systems by biomass installations;
- Extensive roof, wall and floor insulation in homes (up to passive house standard);
- The use of heat pumps for heating/cooling of office buildings;
- The accelerated introduction of plug-in hybrid and battery-run electric vehicles;
- Putting a stop to the loss of woodlands;
- Working with semi-closed greenhouses in horticulture;
- Expansion of recreational and functional cycle route network;
- Sustainable and multiple use of space is also a sensible guideline. Examples include combining wind towers and mobile phone masts, the stacking of functions: e.g. companies on different floors, rather than everything on the ground floor, the overlapping of functional uses: e.g. installing greenhouses above manufacturing companies, the positioning of offices above the parking lot, designing a car park as a skating rink.
The costs? The province can reduce its CO2 emissions by one third without it costing Limburg anything. If all the subsidies are included in the calculations, this could be as high as 50%. However, the implementation of the measures to reduce emissions will provide a boost to investments and employment in the low carbon economy. Electricity consumption per family can be halved via a combination of insulation, installation of roofs with photovoltaic cells and replacement of energy guzzling appliances.
I would like to end with a quote from Winston Churchill:
Difficulties mastered are opportunities won.
PS. When we see the Canadian national government pulling out of the Kyoto treaty 2, a sudden urgency comes for the Mayors in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Hamilton and Yellowknife to show leadership and how cities can reduce their impact on
Climate Change. As far as I am concerned, national governments seem to have great difficulties to show commitment to needed carbon reduction initiatives. Mayors don’t