Unlocking Climate Finance for Developing Resilient Cities


Urban areas are the source of a staggering 75% of global carbon emissions while expecting to house 70% of the world’s population by 2050. Cities are facing immediate dangers like higher temperatures, rising sea levels, extreme weather, and erratic rainfall patterns. This alarming scenario demands substantial financial investments to mitigate and adapt to climate change’s impending impacts. The financial requirements vary depending on city size, existing infrastructure, and specific needs. Nonetheless, estimates suggest a need for approximately USD 29.4 trillion globally by 2030 for urban climate-related projects. Additionally, it’s essential to marshal around USD 1 trillion annually in climate finance from external sources by 2030, specifically focusing on emerging markets and developing countries.

The concept of climate finance originated with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established in 1992. This framework introduced the principle of “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities” (CBDR), recognizing nations’ varied capacities and responsibilities in addressing climate change. This principle has gained prominence through subsequent agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, and the Paris Agreement, emphasizing the necessity of international financial support for developing nations due to disparities in their contributions to climate change and their capacity to manage it. Multiple initiatives and mechanisms have been designed to mobilize climate finance, including established institutions like the Adaptation Fund, Global Environment Facility (GEF), Green Climate Fund, and specialized climate funds.

Besides these institutional sources, various alternative channels for climate finance exist, encompassing non-banking financial corporations (NBFCs), external commercial borrowings (ECBs), private equity investments, and development finance institutions (DFIs). Mobilizing the investments necessitates cities fostering supportive policy environments and exploring innovative financing mechanisms like green bonds and public-private partnerships. Collaboration with other cities, international organizations, financial institutions, and the private sector can enhance investment prospects and promote knowledge sharing. This comprehensive approach seeks to address the urgent need to strengthen climate finance, particularly in the cities of developing countries.

Urban climate financing can emanate from diverse sources, offering cities the means to fund crucial adaptation and mitigation projects. These funding sources encompass government budgets, international development assistance, institutional investors, commercial banks, public-private partnerships (PPPs), municipal bonds, sovereign green bonds, impact investors, philanthropic organizations, and multilateral development banks. Grants and subsidies, which require no repayment, can be secured from national governments, international organizations, and philanthropic foundations, particularly useful for catalyzing private sector investments in sustainable development.

Development banks, such as regional and international financial institutions, offer loans, grants, and technical assistance for infrastructure development. Commercial banks and financial institutions may also provide loans or credit facilities for urban projects. Sustainable debt instruments, like green bonds and climate bonds, have seen notable growth, attracting investors interested in environmentally and socially responsible financing. Climate bonds, in particular, are tailored to raise funds for climate- related initiatives, supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. Public-private partnerships represent another avenue where private entities contribute funding, expertise, and resources, with the city retaining ownership of the infrastructure. Addressing climate change and building resilient cities demand immediate, coordinated, and innovative responses.

Accessing climate finance is a multifaceted endeavor that necessitates a well-structured approach and capacities at various levels of governance, from national to local. At the national level, climate actions must align with overarching developmental priorities. This involves rigorous assessments, including climate change scenarios, emissions baselines, and impact projections. Risk management mechanisms and investable project structures are integral components. Public financing becomes crucial for areas like stormwater, flood management, and local public goods. A diversified national framework is essential, enabling various financing options based on project context and needs. Key elements of this framework include:

Establishing robust institutional structures, good governance, policies, and regulations supporting climate action and fostering stakeholder coordination. Cities must institute policies and regulations that incentivize climate action, offer tax incentives, and promote sustainability.

Building cities’ capacity is pivotal, encompassing technical expertise in climate science, renewable energy, urban planning, transportation, financial management capabilities, and creditworthiness development.

Cities should develop a pipeline of bankable green projects aligned with their climate strategies, demonstrating financial viability, sustainability, and climate goal alignment. This includes addressing projects crucial from a climate perspective but not traditionally deemed financially viable.

Access to accurate, up-to-date data is vital for evidence-based decision- making, requiring comprehensive data collection, analysis, and dissemination.

Building partnerships and networks is paramount, involving collaboration with national and international organizations, financial institutions, and other cities to facilitate knowledge exchange and funding access.

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Engaging stakeholders and local communities in project planning and implementation is equally critical, fostering consensus, project acceptance, and community-specific project alignment.

De-risking climate investments in urban infrastructure is essential due to the inherent risks involved, including financial, political, technical, environmental, and operational challenges. To attract climate finance to urban areas, proactive measures are crucial. This includes developing stable policy and regulatory frameworks, conducting thorough risk assessments, and utilizing innovative financial instruments like green bonds and climate insurance to mitigate and transfer risks. Improving project preparation, strengthening local capacity, and enhancing access to reliable climate data are vital steps to boost investor confidence. Creating a clear taxonomy of climate projects is essential to guide investments towards sustainability and inclusiveness. Enhancing the creditworthiness of cities is a fundamental step, requiring comprehensive reforms to enable access to funding for low-carbon, sustainable, and climate-resilient projects. Adopting an Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework and identifying a pipeline of green projects aligned with a climate strategy can further bolster investor confidence.

Technical assistance programs can aid in project design, climate financing options, and hands-on transaction support. Expert organizations should contribute their technical know-how and grant funding, fostering capacity building. Credit ratings should consider climate risks and mitigation measures, requiring capacity enhancement for public, local, and commercial banks. Peer learning and sustained, cross- sectoral capacity-building efforts, especially in developing countries, are vital to enhance cities’ ability to navigate climate finance complexities and align projects with global sustainability goals.

Unlocking climate finance for resilient cities is a complex but essential step towards development. The challenges posed by climate change demand immediate, coordinated, and innovative responses. By ensuring that urban areas have the necessary resources, knowledge, and support to undertake climate-responsive projects, we can create sustainable, thriving, resilient cities to the changing climate. Climate finance is not merely an investment; it’s a commitment to a better, more sustainable future for all..

Note: Summary extracted from the Urban 20 White Paper on Accelerating Climate Finance, National Institute of Urban Affairs – Urban 20 Technical Secretariat