Managing the unmanageable: Examining how cities can address the challenges that arise in their strategy-making process for decarbonizing their heating and cooling infrastructure
Groot, Boris de
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The mitigation of the effects of climate change is an increasingly urgent matter. To that effect, many cities aim to decarbonise their heating and cooling infrastructure, as the heating and cooling of the built environment requires a significant amount of the city’s energy demand. As this is a long-term development, cities usually use strategic frameworks to guide the transition process of decarbonising these infrastructures. However, this transition faces many significant challenges in both the social and the technical domains. These challenges severely limit cities in their capabilities to implement strategic frameworks and, therefore, the ability to enable and guide the transition in urban areas. This research aims to chart these challenges and explore how cities can address them to move forward with the transition. To explore these challenges and assess their impact on the transition, this research examines the transitory development of decarbonising heating and cooling infrastructures through a multi-case study on Bilbao and Bratislava. The socio-technical transition of the decarbonisation of heating and cooling infrastructures in both cases is analysed using the four-track approach proposed by Strategic Spatial Planning theory and literary criteria for strategic frameworks. Furthermore, the extent to which the projectification phenomenon impacts the transition is assessed. The research concludes by identifying the uncertainty resulting from socio-technical heterogeneity as the major challenge to the transition, resulting in unclarity in long-term visions and in short-term and long-term actions. A further consequence of this uncertainty is identified as the paradoxical dependency of authorities on regime actors to facilitate the socio-technical regime change necessary to enable the transition. The projectification phenomenon is identified as a challenge to the transition and a possible pragmatic solution to the implications of the uncertainty-related challenges. The wicked nature of the problem is addressed. Finally, this research provides recommendations for further research and policy recommendations for municipalities to act on the identified challenges and learn from practical examples.