6 lessons from the climate champions in the province of Limburg

Climate Actions 5 min read , November 16, 2020
Que pouvons-nous apprendre des meilleurs de la classe?

Futureproofed investigated which of the municipalities in the province of Limburg currently have the best prospect for the future. To this end, we analysed the CO2 reduction achieved, the social benefits in euros and the number of actions communicated to involve citizens. What can we learn from these top players? We called them, and we came back with six lessons! 🤓

Lesson 1 ° Choose local energy 🔌

On average, the climate actions in the province of Limburg generate 164 euros per inhabitant, per year. A few municipalities know how to raise that amount dramatically. Outliers are Gingelom (1369 euros), Lummen (568 euros), Beringen (481 euros) and Pelt (408 euros). The trick: opt for local energy production.

The fact that the installation of wind turbines is certainly not a windfall, is shown by the punishing results of Gingelom (7 turbines), Beringen (11 turbines) and Lummen (7 turbines). Solar panels also produce large yields today (and without subsidies) (Pelt).

In addition to making energy production more sustainable, it goes without saying that reducing energy consumption in the municipality remains crucial. Many municipalities are fully committed to the renovation of buildings, better glazing and insulation. This reduces energy bills and improves living conditions. At the same time, it disconnects energy from sources that will become uncertain in the future, such as Russian gas and oil from the Middle East. A win-win.

Lesson 2: Don't do it on your own 🤝

Local governments often suffer from structural underfunding. This makes investments - however profitable the actions may be in the longer term - sometimes difficult. How can this be solved? Municipalities are able to release considerable budgets from citizens and companies. This can be done by involving them in public actions concerning renovation, solar panels or (electric) partial mobility.

Lummen (107 actions) and Hasselt (45 actions) have the broadest involvement in public actions. From informing citizens about the advantages of electric car-sharing or renovation to the installation of tile gardens and green playgrounds. In Bilzen (21 actions), they noted the importance of ambassadors, who can encourage an entire neighbourhood to plant trees or to use a shared car.

Collaborating with companies can also be a way to free up resources for necessary investments. For example, Lommel (with 303,000 panels) installed the largest solar park in the Benelux region, in collaboration with investment company LRM. In Genk South, there are plans to install solar panels and wind turbines in which both citizens and private companies can participate. In Bilzen, companies invested in the greening of their own sites.

Lesson 3: Use local knowledge and support 🙌

The tip came from all the successful municipalities we interviewed: make use of the initiatives offered by the overarching political level, like the province of Limburg.

Together with commercial partners, the province is also providing a ready-made offer for municipalities to support them, for example with loans for sustainable building and renovation. The partner with the greatest leverage for climate impact at the moment is undoubtedly the Limburg climate company, Nuhma. It has invested in 62 Limburg installations that generate renewable energy: windmills but also biomass, hydropower and solar energy. The income from these installations goes back to the shareholders of Nuhma - 42 Limburg municipalities - via the dividend that is paid out annually.

Lesson 4: Money is time, time is money 💰

Ensure full integration of the climate plans with the existing multi-annual plan. And earmark climate-related investments so that the plans can also be translated into action.

Peer provides 10 million euro for cycle paths (=25% of their budget). Genk's Climate Plan 2030 is not a separate plan from the existing policy plan. The actions from this plan are included in the multi-year plan 2020-2025. Approximately one third of the investments are earmarked for climate actions.

Someone was recruited in Hasselt to work specifically on climate adaptation (adapting our environment to a changing climate). Think about softening, greening the centre, giving space to water. The city also provides staff time to actively coach citizens who want to set up their own initiative. This is an investment, but one which delivers successful initiatives which originate close to the citizens.

Lesson 5 ° Think outside your box 🖇️

Once upon a time, 'the climate' was a problem exclusively reserved for the environmental department, which had to ‘solve’ it (alongside the other work). In the meantime, it is clear that climate policy is linked to all policy areas.

Think of space for water (spatial planning), or the greening of business parks and the creation of local jobs (economy) or the provision of well-insulated housing (housing policy).

The successful municipalities in Limburg have built a climate reflex into every form of policy, demolished the walls between policy topics and made the climate plan a shared responsibility. Result: larger budgets, more manpower and women available and more policy priority.

Oh and one other thing: go shopping with the neighbours, like they do in Hasselt. Many cities and municipalities have already gained a lot of practical experience. If Genk, Ghent and Leuven have devised solutions for the same challenge, go and study them. If Sint-Truiden has regulations for tile gardens, why reinvent the wheel in Beringen by writing our own regulations?

Lesson 6 ° Communicate smart 🔊

If you want citizens to participate, you have to come up with an inspiring story. What's there to win for them? How can their daily life get better? How can we relieve you as a citizen? The offer must become irresistible, an offer they can't refuse.

In Beringen, the renovation of social housing with asbestos became such a story of opportunities: with lower energy consumption, a healthier and more comfortable home. In Bilzen, they emphasise that information sessions on energy-saving work pretty well, but that they need to be repeated sufficiently, especially in vulnerable groups.

In Peer, someone was recruited at the communication service that is specifically concerned with marketing the city's various climate actions (renovations, a bicycle repair shop, an electric car-sharing service). The trick: make sure you start from a necessity of the citizen - and then come up with a futureproofed solution.

Finally: set a good example. Inspiring, energy-efficient buildings can be a life-size means of communication, such as the library of Bilzen or the town hall of Beringen and Hasselt.

Investir dans les actions en faveur du climat, c'est investir dans l'avenir.

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