A report released by the World Bank in 2016 stated that, each year, urban areas are growing by an average of more than 75 million people – which is a number greater than the population of the world’s 85 smallest countries combined. However, cities and urban dwellers have received too little attention in discussions about climate change impacts and adaptation, especially in relation to financing. It is apparent that the current levels of international funding are insufficient to meet current and future adaptation needs. The report continued by saying that, by 2030, without significant investment to improve the resilience of cities around the world, climate change may push up to 77 million urban residents into poverty.
This month, I had a chance to talk with Anna Brown, former Senior Associate Director of The Rockefeller Foundation. She earned her Master in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is now a founder and principal of Aequita Consulting. She shared with me lessons learned from her 15 years of experience in sustainable development, and financing resilience practice in Asia and globally.
There are currently only a few opportunities for climate change funding to be channeled directly into the hands of low-income urban residents and their organizations. How do you view this?
It is true that there is only limited funding available to support localized resilience efforts, despite growing understanding of the importance for localizing climate change adaptation. However, I think there is still some funding available that is targeted at marginalized community-based adaptation which is very localized. There are also other funding streams that are focused on building resilience at the city-wide level that can be used as alternative funding to improve the capacity of the poor and vulnerable in coping with climate change risks and impacts. It is very important to have strong connection points and efforts that can bridge these two funding sources.
Based on your experience so far, what do you think is a major challenge to the financing mechanism for climate change-related funds?
“I think, we need to figure out the best way to quantify the benefits of resilience building investment to inform decision makers such as city governments.”
So, it can help them prioritize the actions. If there is an absence of such benefits for local communities, then community groups and local government are unlikely to show interest in building urban climate change resilience.
I think another challenge is to better align and tap existing government resources to support resilience efforts within the city. If we have a chance to encourage a city’s planning department to complete a climate risk assessment and draw up an action plan and integrate this plan into the official comprehensive plan, the city budget can be used more efficiently to build resilience. Imagine if a city was able to design projects that could achieve multiple benefits and outcomes, and merge resources across different budget lines that would be completely transformative
Regarding to the previous questions, how do you think we should address the challenge?
Well, we have to continue to enable families and communities to build up resilience in low-cost ways, such as providing affordable housing that is resilient to floods or storms; or finding ways to help low-income households to deal with relentless heat. On a larger scale, I think we need to make urban resilience efforts more attractive, feasible, and rewarding for the government across departments.
We also need to think how to promote decisions and investment creatively to advance urban resilience. There is an example from the United States; the Department of Energy and Environment (DDOE) in Washington, D.C. launched the Stormwater Retention Credit Trading Program (SRC). Property owners generate SRCs by installing green infrastructure that captures and retains stormwater runoff. The DDOE certifies SRCs for eligible best management practices and land cover changes. Owners can sell SRCs in an open market to buyers who can use them to meet regulatory requirements for retaining stormwater. The opportunity to sell SRCs creates an incentive to build green infrastructure that helps protect local waterbodies in DC.
She added that, while the goal is building city resilience, National Government also plays key role in adopting policies, and creating incentives which can encourage and enable cities to invest in infrastructure, that will strengthen resilience.
We know that you have been involved in this resilience field for long, can you share lesson learned in bridging the gap between low income residents and funding source?
In my experience, working in resilience building has been either very localized, and very community based, or city wide in which I think ACCCRN has demonstrated good practice in channeling funding. ACCCRN also recognizes the importance of directing funding to institutions that have standing in the particular geographies where they work. ACCCRN has highlighted the importance of having local actors who have experience and perspectives regarding a particular place which will be valuable to the climate change resilience projects.
Last question: what can we do differently with the overall financing models to promote resilience in Asia?
There’s definitely a need for creative partnerships among funders, governments as well as businesses and industries. I think philanthropy capital can help to spark development in new approaches and practices in climate change resilience. Again, there is a need to figure out how to better align the incentives among governments, businesses, and industries, to promote resilience building in which philanthropy can help to think through experiments on how to bridge those different interests. I think there are a lot of things that philanthropy can support in understanding better how to prioritize actions that can improve climate change resilience.
While adaptation finance has yet to contribute significantly to building resilience for low-income groups in urban areas, alternative mechanisms, such as locally managed funds, demonstrate the potential for alternative approaches, offering scope for greater integration of different activities, and empowering stakeholders, and low-income communities in building resilience. Still, there is a long way to go.