Learning expedition: Climate adaptation and the impact on urban governance in Antwerp
17 Oct 2022
European cities are both major contributors and heavily vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Acknowledging the need to respond to the impacts of climate change that are already happening and to prepare for future impacts, a number of city authorities have set themselves aims to adopt adaptation strategies. While we can observe some variations in terms of preferred approaches - whether developing flood defences, introducing greening initiatives or redesigning key infrastructure networks - these cities also acknowledge the need for a profound transformation of existing governance structures, business operations and citizen participation.
On 21-24 September 2022 Charlotte Halpern, SUMP-PLUS partner Sciences Po, in Paris, took a group of 18 students from the Executive master programme on “Regional governance & urban development” on a learning expedition to the City of Antwerp, to examine the solutions - technical, social, political etc. – that Antwerp is currently developing.
While transformative adaptation remains case specific, this old European city - and SUMP-PLUS coordinating partner - stands out for its efforts to adopt an ambitious climate adaptation strategy. This thriving port city faces major challenges in the context of climate change, in particular due to its geographical location along the eastern bank of the river Scheldt and its linkage to the North Sea through the Westerschelde estuary. It has also been singled-out by the current political majority as a laboratory to experiment with new technologies and innovative solutions. In 2017, Antwerp adopted the ambition to become climate neutral by 2050 and emit at least 40% less CO2 by 2030. Taking stock of the decade long controversy around the Ring road project, the current thinking about the Strategic Spatial Plan (“Creating space for the city of tomorrow”) seeks to reconnect the city with the river and to integrate this forthcoming infrastructure into planning goals. The adoption of the 2020 Climate Plan and its dedicated governance structure also are instrumental in the city’s ambition to integrate all policy sectors (housing, mobility, energy, water management, etc.) and ensure the buy-in of business actors and civil society.
During the learning expedition, the students explored how climate adaptation impacts urban governance in Antwerp and its wider region, and whether it contributes to re-prioritizing policy objectives across policy sectors and re-distributing resources and investments among social groups and areas. Through a series of meetings with a large variety of stakeholders and site visits - including to the Mobility department and the Climate Streets - the students also examined the transformative impact of such initiatives at the broader economic, social and institutional level.