Fund seeks to strengthen climate action in cities

USD 2.3 million announcement addresses key gap in mayors’ ability to access climate finance for resilience planning in cities.

A man runs from the seafront as Super Typhoon Haiyan hits Borocay, in the Philippines, November 2013. (Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock)

QUITO, Ecuador — A USD 2.3 million fund aimed at scaling up climate action in cities was announced here Thursday, providing funding that could boost efforts of developing nations to take initial steps in fulfilling the pledges they made in Paris last year to slow global greenhouse-gas emissions.

The fund is one of several major financing instruments announced at this week’s Habitat III conference, the once-every-20-year meeting aimed at guiding global urban development. The money is being announced by the U. S. government and will be funnelled through the C40 Cities Finance Facility, which receives additional support from the German government.

“As a mayor I can attest that access to reliable financing is one of the greatest barriers cities face when it comes to delivering sustainable infrastructure projects,” C40 Chair and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said in a release. “The C40 Cities Finance Facility is an extremely valuable mechanism for overcoming this obstacle.”

Earlier this year, two cities were selected to pilot the new Cities Finance Facility. Bogotá and Mexico City each received USD 1 million for technical assistance around urban infrastructure projects. The new money will now allow that effort to expand.

Supporters say the announcement can help elevate urban resilience as a unifying thread in local, national and international development agendas. Unlocking investment for urban resilience is a major challenge for low-income cities: Failure by cities to build climate resilience into their development plans could put some 77 million people in developing regions at risk, according to the World Bank.

[See: COP 21 must encourage climate funding to reach the local level]

How to finance that work, however, remains up in the air in many cities — something that many are hoping this week’s meetings here in Quito will help. For years, mayors have warned against institutional barriers that close off their access to the development money that is increasingly available at the international level to fund climate response, particularly around mitigation projects.

Typically such “climate finance” has gone to national governments, to be distributed as per national priority. Mayors say this undermines the responsiveness of local government efforts to act quickly in the face of climate-induced disasters. Earlier this week at Habitat III, a group of mayors appealed to make financing for climate action and urban resilience directly accessible to local governments.

[See: Cities to receive new, ongoing focus in official climate research]

Also on Thursday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that it would hold an International Scientific Conference on Climate Change and Cities in 2018, a key recognition of cities role in combating climate change. The decision marks a “critical milestone in securing a science-policy-practice interface that will help deliver inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient cities in a climate-changed world,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of one of the IPCC’s working groups.

Philippines model

With funding mechanisms now being made available, the next step calls for mayors is to work closely with national planners in order to integrate resilience in city development plans and align them with country commitments articulated in the legally binding pledges national governments made at the COP 21 climate negotiations in Paris in December.

That treaty is now close to coming online, following legislative action in a number of large countries. So of the 160 government climate pledges (covering 187 countries) received ahead of the Paris climate talks, how many of them deal specifically with cities? Around two-thirds include measures to address urban resilience in one form or another, said Marcus Mayr, associate humans settlements officer.

[See: How to globalize the sustainable city]

Mayr is also a member of UN-Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) research team. That group is preparing a policy recommendation on how to link the New Urban Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the U. N.’s 15-year anti-poverty framework finalized last year.

“The formula is simple: understand, strategize and implement,” said Mayr, who will present on the issue at next month’s COP 22 talks in Morocco. “Understanding how cities in developing countries rank climate and urban resilience in their priorities is key to provide proper recommendations, so they can have better chances of accessing finance for implementing mitigation and adaptation efforts.”

The Philippines has found notable ways to harmonize its national and local policymaking and actions around city-level resilience action, said Mayr. At the national level, the government is mainstreaming these approaches through its national urban development plan; the country’s Climate Change Commission also holds regular trainings and collates lessons learned in this regard across the country.

In addition, 2012 legislation created what’s known as the People’s Survival Fund, through which cities can access more than USD 50 million for funding climate adaptation and mitigation projects. So far, 20 proposals for flood control and agriculture have been reviewed. To access this money, a city or municipal government unit needs to show how it will integrate resilience mechanisms in their local blueprint for urban planning.

[See: Philippines bringing its experience in urban resilience to Habitat III]

Local authorities also are encouraged to build up their own knowledge of how to make these and related policy decisions — to rely less on consultants and contractors when doing their climate and urban resilience strategies.

“Developing skills within the city government by having permanent resilience officers is key to ensure there is continuity in preparing and recovering from disasters,” said Rene Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. A disaster expert, she trained 1,000 resiliency officers in the country a year after Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the country in 2013.

Scientists also have been tapped to use data in mapping areas at-risk of different hazards. One of these initiatives is Project NOAH, an online portal that integrates weather, hazards and 3D maps to provide local governments and the public information on flooding scenarios based on historical and real-time sensor data matched with the area’s topography.

Still, the extent to which the New Urban Agenda will encourage the spread of these models remains up in the air. On Thursday, a group of researchers criticized the document for what they said was its failure to spark immediate action.

“What is abundantly clear is that the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on climate will be won or lost in cities. We have just 14 years to make historic progress on these agreements,” said Timon McPhearson, professor of urban ecology at the New School in New York. Yet urgency is entirely absent in the New Urban Agenda.”

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