Tropical river deltas such as the Amazon, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna, and the Mekong are facing increasing pressures from climate change, upstream infrastructure building, and rapid economic development. Many deltas are shrinking and sinking, risking national and global food security. To promote the sustainability of the Vietnamese Mekong Delta, the Vietnamese government has developed a strategic spatial plan that introduces legal and institutional innovations designed to recalibrate central-local relationships and to increase policy effectiveness. We analyse these strategic changes by drawing on three sets of literature: strategic spatial planning, environmental states, and sustainability transitions in multi-level governance systems. We conducted interviews with provincial government officials in the delta to provide fresh insights into the real-time changes that local officials are facing. Our findings suggest that the state remains crucially important to facilitate transitions towards sustainability. By analysing the ongoing restructuring of state-wide governance regimes and resource relationships across a multi-level playing field, we view the state as a dynamic multi-level system where the dispersal of power is constantly in motion. Such a view allows us to observe in real time how states cope with sustainability crises. Applying this to the Vietnamese Mekong Delta enables us to locate the delta within a changing state-wide multi-level governance structure for strategic spatial planning in which the Vietnamese government enacts policy innovations to build local capacity while binding provinces closer to the centre. This recalibration of central-local relationships needs to be underpinned by investment in staff, the mobilisation of financial resources, and detailed guidance for implementation in order to stabilise the vertical and horizontal governance structures that are developing to transition vulnerable landscapes into a sustainable future.