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We are implementing a whole host of measures in our city with the aim of making Ghent climate-neutral by 2050.

Mathias De Clercq

Mayor of Ghent

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A holistic approach to climate change

In almost a decade since Ghent became one of the first cities to sign up to the Covenant of Mayors, the world's largest movement for local climate and energy actions, they have taken significant steps to address their climate impacts.

Social inclusion in finding solutions to mitigate climate change plays a key role in the Belgian city's strategy. They have many different activities and tools to help the whole community get involved in both the longer-term planning and the short-term measures in a bid to become climate neutral by 2050.

Setup in 2011, ‘Transition arenas’ convene innovators in various fields to support the city, home to nearly a quarter of a million people, in the development of climate policy.

Climate working groups have also been established to formulate ideas around specific themes, from farming to the university and the arts. The ideas and solutions coming out these working groups feed directly into local policy. Some platforms are dedicated specifically to school children and young people, encouraging them to come up with ideas and spread the word to their peers.

The city uses a variety of social media channels to ensure they reach a large audience, including setting up an interactive website where citizens can become a ‘partner’ in the alliance and share their ideas

One initiative aims to renovate 3,500 houses each year, including those of the most vulnerable members of society, as part of the 30,000 euro per house scheme. In total this programme will represent a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions from housing.

An online thermographic map is used to pinpoint heat loss from houses. Residents can locate their properties to find out about levels of heat loss and are able to consult the city’s environment department for group purchases on roof insulation and advice on subsidies.

Vulnerable groups of residents, such as the elderly and the poor, are targeted by an agency offering free services, such as energy scans and guidance, subsidies and low-interest loans for energy efficiency measures.

Ghent keeps track of CO2 levels using a 2007 baseline measurement. It has carried out evaluations including monitoring energy flows and exploring the potential use of additional renewable sources, such as wastewater for heating.

Ghent mayor Mathias De Clercq is member of the Executive Committee of Eurocities, a network of over 140 of Europe's largest cities and over 45 partner cities that between them govern 130 million citizens across 39 countries. The group offers members a platform for sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas on issues including climate mitigation.

He believes that cities, such as those within the Eurocities network, have a key role to play in the fight against climate change.

“Cities and regions are integral to the delivery of short, medium and long-term climate strategies. It’s cities and regions who are leading the way on efficient emissions reduction across member states, through their roles in land-use planning, new developments, building energy renovation, transport and circular economy. Without the active, regular and structured participation of cities and regions, climate targets will be almost impossible to achieve.”

Mr De Clercq said: “We are implementing a whole host of measures in our own city with the aim of making Ghent climate-neutral by 2050. A traffic programme has banned highly polluting vehicles from the centre making a significant impact on air quality.

“A policy for tackling food waste is resulting in significant carbon saving and helping the poorest members of society through the redistribution of surplus food from supermarkets.

“Important in our energy transition is that the focus on energy efficiency remains very high, combined with local and sustainable renewable energy production through wind, solar and renewable heat.

“Not only do we invest in local renewable energy ourselves, we take our role as facilitator for local renewable energy projects very seriously. We are constantly looking for opportunities to support innovative projects such as Neighbourhood Power where the local energy cooperative aims to create a collective solar panel project in a specific district of our town in which low income families are involved as well.”