Expert Voices: Rishi Desai, C40 Research

Benefits outweigh costs of climate adaptation action – yet financing remains a barrier

With the Atlantic hurricane season underway, communities along the US Eastern seaboard are braced for Hurricane Irene to strike. Stronger and more frequent storms are one of the effects of climate change, along with sea-level rise and heat stress. 

But cities are increasingly prepared for these natural events. Within the C40 network, cities are taking action to build their resilience and reduce the vulnerability of citizens, physical assets and economies through significant new infrastructure investments. Our research shows that C40 Cities are integrating adaptation efforts with city growth policies, including development planning and infrastructure development. C40 Mayors recognize that the long-term benefits of adaptation efforts outweigh the upfront costs.  

C40’s recent research report Climate Action in Megacities documents examples of actions undertaken by 19 cities that have budgeted funds toward adaptation efforts. The report examines a range of critical economic sectors and city functions that relate to climate adaptation and documents those areas where C40 mayors have influence. The research shows that because most C40 Mayors have direct control over land use planning, city roads, and buildings, many C40 cities are beginning to integrate adaptation policy within traditional city planning:

  • 15 cities are integrating sustainable urban drainage approaches into infrastructure investments, the majority of which are in pilot stages.  A further 6 are considering how to implement this strategy in the future.
  • 12 cities have restricted new development in flood-prone areas, and are working with existing building owners to adapt their buildings to flooding risks.
  • 16 cities are undertaking one of the simplest, yet most effective measures: increasing budgets for the maintenance of existing storm-water collection systems.
  • 21 C40 cities have begun tree planting programs and green space expansion efforts to mitigate flooding and the urban heat island effect; collectively these cities have preserved more than 2.1 billion km2 of green space -- and this number is growing.

These examples show that cities are increasingly understanding that the benefits of an integrated risk-reduction approach outweigh the costs of inaction. They are conducting research to assess the vulnerability of their populations, assets, and economies in order to maximize effective risk-reduction. 

Still, financing remains a key issue. Over 15 C40 cities view climate change as a growing threat and therefore have allocated internal resources for climate adaptation actions and undertaken vulnerability assessments in order to better understand the risks they face locally. These approaches vary widely in their methodology and results, and therefore result in inconsistent valuation of impact.

In order to facilitate investment, particularly private investment, cities and financing institutions need a standard approach to identify, evaluate and prioritize risk reduction actions within a city over time, and compare actions taken and risk profiles between cities.

Developing a comparative assessment approach would enable consistent measurement of reduced risk and help make the link between reduced insurance premiums and adaptation investments.  This in turn could inform development of financial products that aim to scale adaptation actions across all cities.

Recognizing this need, the C40 is exploring opportunities to develop a standard tool for measuring risk and working with key partners to identify approaches to best present projects to potential investors.