Even though they’re almost 2000 kilometres apart from each other, both Tilburg and Porto suffer so much from climate change that the cities have to adapt to it. Betting on mobility and green areas are some of the municipalities' strategies.

This reportage is part of a special international edition promoted by JPN with the help of three FEJS Journalism students who visited Porto in the first week of May.

Versão portuguesa

Nederlandse versie

The year 2023 was the hottest in our lifetimes on the entire planet, according to the State of Europe’s Climate in 2023 report, released by the Copernicus program in April this year. Floods and heatwaves were also felt and caused 13 billion euros worth of damage on the European continent.

Europe is facing the consequences of this phenomenon and taking action is urgent. The city of Porto, in Portugal, and Tilburg, a city in the south of the Netherlands, located about an hour from Amsterdam, have invested in creating parks and green areas, in strengthening mobility as measures to promote sustainability and tackle climate change.

In 2019, Porto re-signed the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and made a commitment to voluntarily reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 85% by 2030. Tilburg already stated in 2008 in their climate programme for the period between 2009 and 2012 that the city should be climate neutral in 2045.

JPN spoke to Filipe Araújo, deputy mayor of Porto (CMP) and Councillor for Innovation and the Environment, and to Tom Daelman, spokesperson for the municipality of Tilburg, to find out what measures the two municipalities are taking to combat climate change. The two european cities have some common strategies.

Building greener cities to withstand the heat and floods

On July 26th 2018 it was with 38 degrees much hotter in Tilburg than in holiday destinations in southern Europe. On that day it was ‘only’ 21 degrees in Porto. In 2019 the downtown of Tilburg was even the hottest place in Europe of the whole summer. According to the Climate Impact Atlas of the Climate Adaptation Services foundation, the wind chill could reach between 41 and 49 degrees in some parts of the city in 25 years’ time. To prevent this, Tilburg is greening the city, as Tom Daelman explains.

In Willem II staat, trees and strips of plants have already been planted just before the curbs. A new water collection system has also been created, which means rainwater no longer goes to the sewer, but is absorbed by plants in the ground, so there will be less water nuisance.

In Porto, parks and green areas also help to withstand the rainy seasons, while forming part of the city’s green lung.

The Asprela park, where JPN interviewed Filipe Araújo, deputy mayor of Porto, is one example of that. “This park is not just about the green and the blue stream that we have here, the water streams that we have, it’s much more than that. Right now we are on top of a dam, and this dam, although people don’t notice, is specifically built to cope with the water that can, in an extreme event, appear and right behind me, we can cope up to 10.000 cubic meters of water”, explains Filipe Araújo.

The vice-president emphasises that “all nature-based solutions are very important. Green roofs, new parks and new ways of controlling the city’s waterways are solutions that the municipality intends to implement in the city. “We’re doing it not only on the public side, but also on the private side. We’re trying to encourage people who have their own buildings and private land to help us cope with the extreme phenomena we’re going to have in the future. So the strategy is very important in this regard.”

Porto has also collaborated with the Green Roofs Association, which exists in Portugal, in this regard. “Another interesting project we did was, for example, at a school where we tested three types of green roofs. One green roof is called a solar green roof. This is the advantage of having solar and photovoltaic production with a green roof.”

“Trees allow us to reduce the speed of the rain that falls in the city. So having more trees is very important for dealing with extreme phenomena. But we can also use green roofs. We are measuring drainage with two roofs, one with a green roof, one without, and how the drainage is working. All these projects come together to tackle the grand strategy of climate adaptation and mitigation”, says Filipe Araújo.

Increasing the energy efficiency of public housing buildings – which account for 12 per cent of all housing in Porto – is also an option adopted as part of the city’s strategies to tackle climate change, as Filipe Araújo, deputy mayor of Porto, says.

Fewer cars and more (and better) public transport

The municipality of Tilburg is also keen to get people out of their cars. “You do that by offering as many alternatives as possible to your residents,” says Daelman. “By public transport and by making your city attractive to cyclists and pedestrians. And then greening is desperately needed.”

The construction on Willem II straat lasted for over a year, during which part of the street was constantly inaccessible. And those who now want to go from the city centre to the West of the city via Schouwburgring have to cross the road several times because of the construction. According to the municipal spokesperson, this will remain so for some time: “I have bad news for everyone who is in the inner city, because Tilburg will still be constructed for the time being. There is no deadline to this, but it will continue for the next five years.”

According to the data from the Insurance and Pension Funds Supervisory Authority, there are 7 million light cars in Portugal. Between 2019 and 2022, the country gained almost half a million more cars. And this is also a problem in Porto, where there is a lot of traffic.

Filipe Araújo assumes that the scenario is worrying, but says that the municipality of Porto aims to encourage people to use public transport more and more instead of personal cars. In addition, he recalls the importance of quality and efficient public transport.

“The city is also looking for more environmentally friendly public transport. So we have two new metro lines that will help us a lot to reduce the number of cars that nowadays have to make these kinds of journeys between these two points. We’ve also invested in our bus company”, highlights Filipe Araújo. “At the moment, the bus company is owned by the municipality, and we have invested a lot in the bus company, renewing its fleet. Right now, by 2027, 40% of the fleet will be electric. So we’re making a big change at the moment. It’s natural gas and electric, but 40% will be electric in the future. We’re now investing only in the electric fleet”.

Although the commitment to mobility is important, the price of transport is also a factor that must be taken into account if people are to stop using their cars, as well as waiting times. For this reason, the prices have been adapted and university students up to the age of 23 no longer pay.

“We cut the tariffs a few years ago. Right now, to move around Porto, you pay 30 euros per month to move in the bus in the metro or in the train. But if you are a young people below 23 years old, it’s free. That’s changed completely the mobility in the city because right now all the children and young people started using the public transport”, reveals the deputy mayor.

With regard to waiting times for transport and delays, Filipe Araújo recognises the importance of transport efficiency. The deputy mayor believes that the metrobus, a new vehicle powered by 100 per cent hydrogen and prioritised over other means of transport thanks to its own circulation lane, could be a step in this direction. The metrobus ‘adds quality, speed and great flexibility to the transport network’, according to Metro do Porto, which is responsible for the project.

In addition, Filipe Araújo emphasises the importance of digital, with apps and panels at bus stops that let you know bus timetables and routes in real time.

Solar panels and the energy transition towards carbon neutrality

Besides greening, Tilburg is also working on energy transition. The municipality wants to get rid of fossil fuels and switch to green energy. For instance, it is already installing solar panels on rooftops. “We actually want everyone in our city to do that too,” Daelman says. “We would like to use that space on rooftops, where it doesn’t bother anyone, as optimally as possible to generate energy. We can then use that as a replacement for fossil fuels.”

In addition, the municipality would also like buildings to become more sustainable to move away from fossil fuels and save more energy. The municipality itself is already doing this at its own buildings. It has also made agreements with housing associations and developed a programme for associations of homeowners and homeowners to do the same. “We want all buildings in our city to be prepared to undergo the energy transition,” says Daelman. “So we are going to make sure that all our homes and all our buildings in our city are insulated as much as possible.”

All this should ensure that Tilburg is completely climate neutral by 2045. This is five years earlier than the national government has set as its target. “It will be hard work to achieve it,” says Daelman. “We are doing everything we can to make it possible in 2045, but we need everyone to do that.”

For instance, Tilburgers can already help achieve this goal by insulating their homes and greening their gardens. Daelman himself does not yet know whether Tilburg can be carbon-neutral by 2045, but he is positive about the goal: “we impose this ambition on ourselves. Because if you don’t have ambition, you certainly won’t make it.”

As a way of investing in green energy, the municipality of Porto, in collaboration with the Porto Energy Agency, has launched the ‘Porto Solar’ project. The project made it possible to install 2,300 solar panels on the roofs of primary schools and public buildings, with an investment of 700,022 euros by the municipality.

“This project was finished and it was dedicated to 31 or 32 buildings. And we started from schools. Why schools? Because we produce energy in schools, but we also put a screen on the whole of the school for children to understand what was the energy that they were using, if they were producing or not, if they were using efficiently this energy”.

Filipe Araújo recalls that “the future is not about only consuming green energy. It’s also to use the less energy that we can and, for that reason, we are investing a lot on refurbishing of the housing, of promoting this kind of new buildings that can be more efficient, and that we are trying also to incentivize people to have them refurbishing or when they are building new buildings to build it in a way that they consume the less energy they can”.

Porto is also committed to the Climate Pact and, compared to Tilburg, Porto hopes to achieve carbon neutrality 15 years earlier, in 2030. But is it an achievable goal? The deputy mayor believes it is possible. “It’s a compromise that brings everyone together from the citizen to the university, to the municipality, to the football clubs, to everyone. So everyone is called to have a specific compromise that is with targets of 2030. And the target of 2030 is where we want to be carbon neutral”.

Filipe Araújo mentions investment in mobility and energy as a way of achieving this goal. “The municipality only accounts for 6% of the emissions of the city. So we cannot do more than that if we don’t bring everyone together”.

Edited by Filipa Silva