After Climate Week: Sustainable Finance for the One Percent

This Oped originally appeared in Triple Pundit:

Some in the financial services industry seem to have just awakened to the realization they need to assess their risks. This shift in thinking is due in part to the growing awareness of the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure and a grasp of its guidelines. It might also dawn on those same bright minds amongst the one percent that addressing their risks involves a flight of capital from the most vulnerable places and, thus, a knock-on effect of increasing vulnerability and disparity between rich and poor.

But not yet.

Instead, the financial industry’s top brass speaking at HSBC’s “Financing a Sustainable Future” event, part of last week’s Climate Week in New York, frequently centered on de-risking and disclosure, given the negative impacts of climate risks on banks, stock portfolios, consumer markets and real estate.

Those focusing on material loss to portfolios – rather than such loss to the world’s most vulnerable – were the European Commission’s Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), Bloomberg’s special advisor to the Chairman as well as its global head of sustainable business and finance, the head of sustainable finance at the Global Policy Initiatives Institute of International Finance, Moody’s infrastructure finance expert and the International Finance Corporations’ climate business head.

What does all this mean? It’s simple: Those facing disproportionate vulnerability to climate hazards – the global majority – will see less infrastructure investment, job access and social services. In effect, in the sustainable finance world of these big thinkers, stranded assets are ignored. And I don’t mean coal-fired power plants. When a flight of capital occurs from places facing climate hazards, what is stranded are human beings – members of our community left homeless, without jobs, without schools and without modernized infrastructure.

Last year, I asked this question: Is TCFD Guidance Exacerbating Social Inequity? And suggested that the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, go further with his claims about the “tragedy of the horizon.” Other experts are acknowledging this issue. 

The private sector-led Coalition for Climate Resilience Investments launched by Willis Towers Watson and the World Economic Forum at last week's General Assembly includes an aim to provide “support for climate vulnerable geographies to attract investment and prevent capital flight as climate risks become more evident.” Further, in a paper authored by Climate Finance Advisors for UNEP-FI and the  Global Commission on Adaptation, Delivering Finance Today for the Climate-Resilient Society of Tomorrow, global finance system experts point this out:

“Identifying the financial implications of climate risks will create enormous opportunities for profitable investment by all types of investors, including both public and private finance. However, the same understanding may also trigger potential capital shifts or flight from the poorest and most vulnerable communities and countries, those most in need of investment in adaptation and resilience.”

They add: “Governments are likely to require the expansion of safety net programs for the poor and most vulnerable.”

Each of their recommendations could be reinterpreted with the aim of decreasing disproportionate risk, including, for instance:

  • Accelerate and Promote Climate-Relevant Financial policies [that explicitly protect the most vulnerable].

  • Develop, Adopt, and Employ Climate Risk Management Practices [that explicitly reduce risk to vulnerable populations].

  • Develop and Adopt Adaptation Metrics and Standards [including benefits gained by vulnerable populations]

CFA’s findings influence the Global Commission on Adaptation report to lead with this:

“Climate change could push more than 100 million people within developing countries below the poverty line by 2030. The costs of climate change on people and the economy are clear. The toll on human life is irrefutable. The question is how will the world respond: Will we delay and pay more or plan ahead and prosper?”

I think the finance leaders speaking enthusiastically at the HSBC event have an answer to that question: They are working to ensure prosperity. Let’s plan and act on it being for the global majority, not just the one percent. 

Image credit: United Nations/Facebook

What’s New In Climate Finance? ADAPTATION! Twelve New Initiatives You Should Know

The Global Adaptation and Resilience Investment work group meeting this week alongside the UN General Assembly in New York during Climate Week provided insights into a dozen significant adaptation finance initiatives.

1.  Willis Towers Watson, partnering with the World Economic Forum and several governments, announced at the UN General Assembly the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment. The group focuses on strengthening the market for private and public-sector investment in climate resilient infrastructure, reducing climate risk by shifting the flow of investment toward climate resilient infrastructure, and supporting climate vulnerable geographies to attract investment and prevent capital flight as climate risks intensify. 

2.  Climate Bond Initiative completed its Climate Resilience Principles, which I co-authored, providing guidance for the investment sector on assessing and addressing climate risks, building climate resilience for all and doing no harm to impacted communities. 

3.  The Climate Service matured Climanomics, its subscription-based risk analytics software that quantifies financial impacts of climate changes, strengthening the market’s ability to improve an underdeveloped part of climate risk management:

4.  The Lightsmith Group raised additional funds for The Climate Resilience and Adaptation Finance & Technology Transfer Facility (CRAFT), seeking US$500 million to invest in 10-20 companies that provide resilience solutions for developing countries, paired with a technical assistance facility for market entry and capacity building.

5.  Climate Finance Advisors released Delivering Finance Today for the Climate-Resilient Society of Tomorrow in support of the Global Commission on Adaptation’s report.

6.  The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board launched the TCFD Good Practice Handbook to help organizations with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures’ reporting principles and requirements by offering specific examples of effective TCFD reporting.

7.  Moody’ acquired Four Twenty Seven Inc. in a move to further climate risk analytics in investment decisions. 

8.  European Bank for Reconstruction and Development issued the first ever dedicated climate resilience bond, raising US$ 700 million from a $500M issuance.

9.  The Global Environment Facility and Lightsmith Group launched the Adaptation SME Accelerator Project ASAP to build an ecosystem of small and medium-sized enterprises engaged in adaptation and climate resilience in developing countries.

10.       Rockefeller Foundation continued implementation of The Urban Resilience Fund (TURF) in part to establish a market standard for resilient infrastructure and demonstrate the value of the resilience dividend.

11.       The World Bank Group, through its Action Plan on Adaptation and Resilience voiced its intention to scale up funding to $50B by 2025, bringing adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation finance on par with each another.

12.       Climacell launched its consumer weather ap to disrupt weather forecasting.

Onward with more money for resilience and adaptation!

Image credit:NASA

Salesforce Launches Yesteryear’s Climate Action Tool

This Oped originally appeared on Triple Pundit:

There was plenty of climate related news last week besides the Global Climate Strike (shown above in Augsberg, Germany and discussed here). Last week, Salesforce introduced its Sustainability Cloud with an aim to “empower every business to drive impactful climate action.”

The platform has a nifty Salesforce look and feel, allowing clients to track, analyze and report reliable greenhouse gas data that offer efficiency and insights to managers and create dynamo reports and dashboards to catch the eye of the c-suite. The move is precipitated both by Salesforce’s headline sponsorship of Climate Week in New York next week, and, according to the company’s sustainability vice president Patrick Flynn, by its involvement in the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD). 

But as we know, TCFD is focused on the financial impact of climate-related risks and opportunities on an organization, rather than the impact of an organization on the environment. In other words, TCFD is reflecting that businesses and stakeholders recognize the urgent issues of climate change more than ever including the risks that climate change is creating for their growth. In other words, corporations are worried about the physical impacts - both shocks and stresses - of climate change. This is an area that the Salesforce Cloud does not touch.

While I can think of dozens of carbon accounting platforms, for an industry that is old and acquisition-rich by Silicon Valley standards (check Hara, for instance, which more than a decade ago had become industry leading enough to be acquired by Verisae, which was subsequently acquired by Accruent), the resilience analytics marketplace is not so crowded and is ripe for a new entrant like Salesforce. 

A day before Salesforce’s Sustainability Cloud launch, the Climate Bonds Initiative released its Climate Resilience Principles that provide a framework for assessing climate resilience investments. Created with input from over 40 experts around the globe, the principles first aim to guide investors to understand climate risks faced by assets, activities and systems. Second, they address these risks through risk-reduction measures and third to increase the number and quality of investments that deliver resilience benefits over and above addressing identified risks.

These principles are solution to the urgent issue of climate impacts on business operations and growth. Moving beyond carbon accounting, one thing the principles rely on: the nascent risk and resilience metrics arena that Salesforce could capture and grow.

I have no doubt that Salesforce will be a force for good. With close to two hundred thousand clients, they are certain to make it easier for many more corporations to measure their carbon emissions. This captive market may be Salesforce’s disruption of the relatively mature carbon accounting marketplace.

But the real white space is for easily accessed and applied data that can help corporations assess and act on their current and future climate change hazards and vulnerabilities. Let’s hope the swift work of Salesforce’s epic workforce will not be disrupted by climate risks, such as San Francisco’s wildfire-driven poor air quality, increasing National Weather Service heat-related danger days or more frequently flooded commutes - to move ahead toward that truly newsworthy task.

Image credit: Wiki Commons

ClimateTech: A New Investment Genre for Startups Emerges

This Op Ed originally appeared on Triple Pundit

There’s HealthTech. FinTech. InsurTech, AdTech and AgTech. And biotech, of course. Is “ClimateTech” the newest emerging sector where technology-based startups are entering to combat climate change?

Given how quickly savvy entrepreneurs identify ways to transform an industry, it seems only natural that they are identifying tech-aided advances to help solve climate adaptation and resilience challenges. Activity certainly is accelerating and it will prove interesting to see if socially responsible investors take note. After all, venture capitalists may be wary since many made money-losing bets during the so-called CleanTech era in the 2000s.

So, what is ClimateTech? The Collider, a three-year-old Asheville, N.C. nonprofit dedicated to helping the world prepare, adapt and become resilient as climate change intensifies, defines this term as a “rapidly emerging industry in which data-driven products are developed to enable communities, companies, and governments to understand their risk and exposure to the effects of climate change and take action to adapt and become resilient.” (Take a look at The Collider’s infographic below.)

At least three resilience-focused ClimateTech categories can be classified. They are:  

  • Energy resilience: Two years ago, according to one report, utilities had invested over $2.9 billion in distributed energy companies. Distributed generation falls into the classic CleanTech venture capital definition, and wealthy investors such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos have been pouring money into the billion-dollar Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund for distributed generation and other energy tech. For instance, they have funded Sierra Energy, whose waste-to-energy gasification technologies are modular. And the Australian startup Omnicarbon provides the first artificial intelligence core smart city platform to partner with cities to achieve a sustainable, resilient and decarbonized future.


  • Climate risk analytics: While investors become more sophisticated in how they harness data to select the startups most likely to thrive, there also is money to be made in investing in the analytics themselves. For example, Moody’s acquired Four Twenty Seven, Inc., making it an affiliate and giving the rating agency access to a giant database of granular climate change risk analytics. Bloomberg reasoned that the acquisition potentially signifies “the beginning of a major shift in how markets price risks related to climate change.”


  • Agriculture: Sure, this could fall under AgTech, but such precision agriculture products as software management, data analytics, water efficiency and seed innovations are closely related to climate change, recruiting younger farmersand luring venture capital investors focused on agriculture, including Avrio Capital and Anterra Capital. Boston-based Indigo Agriculture, for one, develops microbial and digital technologies that improve environmental sustainability and consumer health, among other things.

While social impact investors haven’t been shy in investing in disaster recovery and big tech firms have donated sizably after extreme events, ClimateTech goes beyond do-gooding to find bottom-line benefits. While traditional CleanTech investments have slowed, these three climate resilience tech investment areas suggest there’s money to be made while combatting climate change.  

In fact, the genre is so ripe that a ClimateTech Wiki has emerged. The site offers a platform for both mitigation and adaptation/resilience technologies; give it a look and consider what climate resilience you can invest your time or treasure in.

Image credit: Hugh Han


Buyout Benefits: Retreating from U.S. Climate Risk Zones

This article originally appeared on TriplePundit:

John Holdren, who was President Barack Obama’s science advisor, has contended that when it comes to climate change, we basically have three responses: “mitigation, adaptation and suffering,” with a combination of them offering the way forward. Within adaptation, three choices also exist: adapt, prepare or retreat.

But in the United States, what constitutes retreat? Or, as a friend of mine at the Federal Emergency Management Association, reflecting his military background, prefers to term it: “retrograde” or “retrograde in force.” Another way to put it is by using the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s favored term, “buyouts.”

HUD, arguably, is the biggest retreater. Its Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant program, as well as various state and local government programs that match FEMA-funded efforts, have paid for buyouts in climate risk zones across the country. The state of New York, for instance, has used CDBG-Disaster Recovery program funds to purchase 1,277 homes in its New York Rising program since 2015, while New York City acquired 120 homes in its Build it Back Program after Hurricane Sandy

Federal rules require a buyout to be the acquisition of real property—residential, commercial, agricultural or vacation—and it must be removed and follow subsequent land use and deed restrictions that require the land be for non-structure use. Generally, buyouts are valued at the pre-disaster price and are available for properties located in a flood plain or disaster risk-reduction areas defined in a post-disaster action plan.

As for buyout benefits, there are several reasons why they may tempt citizens, including:

  • Move people and their homes out of harm’s way, minimizing repetitive loss of property.

  • Restore the natural sponge function of a flood plain.

  • Provide additional green space and coastal or rivers-edge buffers.

  • Offer long-term cost savings to a municipality by decreasing disaster and damage-recovery fund demands.

However, recovery programs face challenges. In many instances, there isn't enough public or political will to support a buyout program. As Pete Plastrik, vice president at Innovation Network for Communities, notes in his coauthored reportCan it Happen Here? Improving the Prospect of Managed Retreat by U.S. Cities, leaders “can foresee that considering retreat would produce substantial political, financial and emotional pain locally—an array of immediate and intimidating difficulties with little gain in the short run.”

Plus, since the programs are generally voluntary instead of being about taking property by eminent domain, low participation can result in a checkerboard of houses with some neighbors taking the buyout and others staying put. The results include decreased cost savings, the loss of any infrastructure buffer and opportunities to avoid repetitive losses. In addition, tax base implications can arise if residents move outside of the local government area and bought-out residents struggle to fund replacement housing at a price that matches their buyout proceeds. Of course, the social impacts, both on those who move away from their community and those who stay, are real and quantifiable.

As the number of buyouts grows over time, paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars and forever impacting affected households and communities, important questions should be addressed:

  • What are clear and replicable guidelines and policies for appraising home values that protect both tax payers and homeowners?

  • How can we ensure those who move do not resettle in places that face future risks – which would mean potentially repeated future buyouts, especially since coastal families might choose to find homes with familiar coastal assets?

  • Since lower-income housing, including public housing and mobile homes, have historically been developed in flood plains, how can these residents be accommodated in dignified affordable homes out of harm’s way?

  • Where will the funds come from for the large number of properties currently at flood risk ?

These are serious questions to ponder—and they will not recede anytime soon.

Image credit: Jim Gade/Unsplash

Where Is your city most vulnerable? This new tool can show you.

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have launched the Urban Adaptation Assessment (UAA), a free measurement and analysis tool that examines a city’s adaptability to climate change and explores the connection between vulnerabilities to climate disasters, adaptive capacities and how these are distributed within a city.

Funded by the Kresge Foundation, the UAA is built upon the University’s annual Country Index and now includes a rich dataset accumulated from over two years of research with more than 270 cities in the United States, including all 50 states and Puerto Rico, whose populations are above 100,000.

The UAA is an interactive visual platform designed with city officials and sustainability leaders in mind, empowering them with the necessary information, data, and statistics to evaluate climate risks and readiness for their relative cities and how best to adapt and prepare.

Whether on a city level or by census tract, the UAA is powerful enough to analyze the equity of city policies; this gives users the data to help them make decisions on how best for their cities to adapt and prepare. For the climate-related hazards of extreme heat, extreme cold, flooding, and drought, the UAA is able to show the projected cost and probability In 2040.

Lauren Faber, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Los Angeles relies on reliable data and says that the UAA is a useful and needed tool for cities prioritize adaptation planning.

“Pilot results for Los Angeles provided a helpful snapshot of our vulnerability and adaptability to potential climate change hazards, helping to highlight areas where we should focus resiliency planning efforts, as well as a means to evaluate current efforts,” she said.

The UAA’s social equity analysis captures and allows exploration of, potential inequities within a city, catalyzing conversation around and implementation of more inclusive adaptation options for all residents.

Additional features include:

●      Risk and readiness scores for each city in the event of flooding, extreme heat, extreme cold, sea-level rise, and drought.

●      Projected cost and probability of climate-related hazards in 2040.

●      Assessment of risks due to climate-related hazards.

●      Evaluations of readiness to implement adaptation measures.

The above features are critical to city decision makers nationally, whose communities are already facing increased climate-related threats including hurricanes that bring record levels of flooding, or more intense summer heat waves. Watch the video below to explore the UAA’s approach to city and sub-city data.

[Check out this great how to video] 

Whether on a city level or by census tract, the UAA is powerful enough to analyze the equity of city policies; this gives users the data they need to help make decisions on how best for their cities to adapt and prepare.


For example, a community leader interested in flood risk might ask, “What’s the flood going to cost our city?” The UAA can be used to determine not only what to focus funds, but where.

If the best-case scenario is to redistribute resources from the wealthier side of town to the less wealthy side of town, the UAA has the data and reasoning behind why such a method might be necessary. With the UAA, a community leader can use the data to show that distributing in certain places will give the most value in terms of spending.

The UAA provides a detailed visualization of the distribution of adaptive capacities and social variables with the objective of exploring potential inequities that exist at the sub-city level (i.e.census-tract), painting a vivid visual of social inequities that lie within a city’s boundaries in relation to the adaptation measures. The UAA is one of the first climate tool available that shows social vulnerabilities at the neighborhood level.

Understanding how best a city to adapt to a changing climate can be daunting. The UAA is easy to use and gives users data to see their city’s risk and readiness in seconds. The tool is accompanied by tutorials and methodology documents to help users get the most out of the data available. With the robust UAA data, community leaders, sustainability officers, and city representatives can determine what the highest priorities are, and better advocate on behalf of needed resources to prepare their city for a changing climate.

Why Amazon’s Long Island City Plans Should Have Considered Climate Risk

This article originally appeared on:

When Amazon was turned away from its Long Island City dream by angry New Yorkers, the company narrowly skirted a bigger issue – the impact of a climate change event that even Amazon is not big enough to get away from.

After all, it’s called Long Island for a reason: in the event of a volatile weather event such as a superstorm, evacuation of all of those working folks whose welfare about which local protesters were so concerned would have been tough. They would all have had to traipse through Manhattan or Connecticut to get out of harm’s way (with much of Manhattan and Connecticut’s populations traversing the same terrain).

Considering that Amazon is planning to be around for the long haul, it seems prudent to look at climate risk criteria in their site selection. Settling down in a place that will likely be partially underwater by 2050 is not prudent. But with all the other risks that companies need to evaluate, what to do about this relatively new vector?

In the U.S., corporate risk managers should turn to free open source tools like the Urban Adaptation Assessment (UAA) created by researchers at the University of Notre Dame. Faster than you can select your kid’s college comforter on Amazon Prime, you can see climate vulnerability assessments, data and graphics for 270-plus cities that will inform these critical decisions. For each city, UAA provides metrics for vulnerabilities related to flooding, extreme heat, extreme cold, drought, and sea-level rise, as well as the city’s readiness to adapt.

While Amazon evaluated measures like a metro area of more than one million people near an international airport with a stable and business friendly environment where there is potential to attract strong technical talent, they missed this risk that investors and global leaders are increasingly working into their decision making.

For a risk manager that gets push back that climate risk is something the firm can build its way out of, offer up that that is true – asset level resilience can be bought. But recall that those new soaring office and hotel buildings in South Boston’s Seaport District (where Amazon is expected to house 2,000 workers) with their inflatable and storable sea walls were no match for the March 2018 Nor’easter that surged onto streets throughout the seaport. By the way, UAA gives Boston good scores for its existing adaptive capacities but notes a flood event there could cost upwards of $1.5 billion.

So what about Amazon’s Northern Virginia metro area choice? Using NOAA sea-level rise projections, the Urban Adaptation Assessment makes plain that the District of Columbia could expect a 1.2-foot inundation along the Potomac in 2040 with costs approaching $155 million per foot of sea level rise. For Alexandria, the Potomac and other waterways could rise as high as a foot, with damages up to $25 million.

And Amazon is not the only one who cares about its risky choices: the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure’s 2019 Status Report shows a steady increase in the number of investors taking the physical risks of climate change into consideration in their decision making. Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor, investor, business owner and climate activist, as well as the co-lead of TCFD, points out that assessing climate risks means that “businesses are better informed about the risks they face, and investors are more capable of making sound decisions.”

In the fickle investment marketplace, accounting for and acting to avoid the worst of climate risk beyond physical assets to your strategies and operations is likely to bring competitive advantage. That would be an Amazonian move.

Image credit: Darin Kim/Flickr

Climate Change Data: Stories for Action from Global to Local Scale

For the images that accompany this article, please see here: and the section header links.

At McKinsey’s Global Sustainability Summit in Chicago in mid-May, the consulting giant’s clients from around the world met to discuss sustainability “at a tipping point.” The theme signals the mounting concerns its clients are expressing as they grapple with the physical impacts of climate change and seek new opportunities for sustainable growth and innovation.

For corporate leaders, a major theme was, “make the risks of climate change actionable,’ in part through story lines that move through various geographic scales and feature the impact of climate risk projections on economies. In the U.S., we benefit from a comprehensive National Climate Assessment that lets us do just that.

Global Sea Level Rise

The U.S. Interagency Sea Level Rise Task Force provides six scenarios for assessing global mean sea level (GMSL) that could affect local communities (image a). The low scenario of 30 cm (about 1 foot) GMSL rise by 2100 is consistent with the current rise rate of 3 mm/year (0.12 inches/year).

The highest scenario of 250 cm mirrors several estimates of the maximum physically plausible level of sea level rise in the 21st century. It also is consistent with the high end of recent projections of Antarctic ice sheet melt. These scenarios are used for risk framing. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, almost 40 percent of the U.S. population live in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where global sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion and hazards from storms.

Because the sea surface is not changing at the same rate at all points around the globe, sea level rise at specific locations may be more or less than the global average due to many local factors (image b).

Local Sea Level Rise

Beyond global sea level trends, sea level rise risks are identifiable for cities around the U.S. Using NOAA’s Coastal Flood Exposure Mapper, it is possible to  examine multiple flood hazards with high resolution models that incorporate potential sea level rise impacts, such as that for Charleston, S.C. (image c)

Sea Level Rise Effects on Economy

Besides impairing coastal infrastructure, regional/local sea level rise also effects local economies. For instance, by 2045, Charleston is projected to experience up to 180 flood events a year that cause delays in vehicular traffic. City officials estimate that each flood event affecting the main traffic artery costs $12.4 million (in 2009 dollars). Over the past 50 years, the damage and lost wages from delayed traffic have totaled more than $1.53 billion. More broadly, on the U.S. East Coast, over 7,500 miles of roadway are located in high tide flooding zones. Unmitigated, this flooding has the potential to nearly double the current 100 million vehicle-hours of delay likely by 2020 (image d).

Cities are taking action on this data. For instance, Charleston has developed a Sea Level Rise Strategy that plans for 50 years out. It reflects moderate sea level rise scenarios and reinvestment in infrastructure, development of a response plan, and increased readiness. As of 2016, the City of Charleston had spent or set aside $235 million (in 2015 dollars) to complete ongoing drainage improvement projects to prevent current and future flooding.

Corporations can too.

Thank you to Baylee Ritter for co-athoring and to Allyza Lustig, U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) for her help with information. 

Chicago Mayor Lightfoot - Resilience Priorities

Congratulations, Mayor Lightfoot on your inspiring inauguration today. It was an honor to serve on your transition team. Here are some resilience-specific recommendations for Chicago.

TO: Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot via

FR: Joyce Coffee, president, Climate Resilience Consulting

RE: Environment Transition Committee Memo

DT: April 15, 2019

What is happening today that we need to keep:

We have no time to waste on decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to save lives and improve livelihoods, thus increasing the efficacy of our climate resilience actions.  For assets the City of Chicago owns, one of the swiftest, most efficient ways to decrease our carbon footprint is to purchase renewable energy credits in the near-term while planning for mid-term investment in renewable energy developments that foster jobs, air quality improvement, resiliency and economic vitality. 

The City should fulfill its commitment to power public buildings with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and meet demands of the Renewable Chicago city/stakeholder working group. Its intent is to create a renewable energy transition that centrally positions social equity and environmental justice within cost-conscious energy supply arrangements to provide maximum benefit to Chicagoans.
Illustrative immediate next steps:

-       Continued development of a robust database of City facilities including energy consumption and cost data to facilitate maximum monitoring and planning for energy efficiency and renewable energy investments at City-owned assets (carbon footprint related).

-       Continued exploration of innovative energy procurement strategies through the active RFI for Municipal Electricity Supply and the Chicago Solar Ground Mount Project that is underway and will inform a five-year renewable energy transition plan.

-       Negotiating emergent partnerships, such as the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, toward arrangements that direct philanthropic resources to areas of need.

-       Finalizing the multiyear and multipronged clean energy transition plan, including the initial City renewable energy credits’ purchase as a first step in the transition. 

Expected Outcomes:[1]

-       Chicago’s strong contribution to slowing the rate of global climate change at levels that meet or exceed the Paris Climate Agreement.

-       Improved stewardship of  City assets and taxpayer dollars through expanded energy management and recognition (e.g., ENERGY STAR, Better Buildings Challenge).

-       Recognition of Chicago as a global clean energy transition leader with particular innovation in bringing opportunity to communities most affected by industrial pollution. 

What we need to implement immediately; or within the next year:

As a global city, Chicago is impacted by global finance trends, including at least four of which relate to climate resilience:[2]

1.     Credit rating agencies evaluate the physical impacts of climate change on municipal, utility and corporate ability to pay back debt.

2.     Big data informs investors about the costs of exposure to predicted future climate change.

3.     Case and constitutional law includes liability for climate change risk, since predicted scenarios are now readily available and force majeur is no longer a viable natural disaster plea.

4.     The Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosure has issued guidelines describing the requirement to assess investment portfolios’ risks from climate change’s physical impacts, influencing trillions of dollars of assets under management.

Fortunately for Chicago, this all equals good news.  Although lower-resourced Chicagoans especially suffer from needless exposure to many environmental hazards, Chicago’s climate change hazards are significantly less than our sea coastal, drought-prone and wildfire interface neighbors elsewhere in the country. Thus, when considering the above four points’ effects on other U.S. cities, our credit ratings will not be negatively impacted by climate change; our 10-30 year infrastructure cost/benefit analysis needs will be less; we will incur less climate change-related liability; and investors in both public and private assets will have fewer physical risks to account for. The bottom line: In terms of climate change resilience, we can develop a mindset shift and brand ourselves a city more attractive to assets under management wishing to avoid risks. Therefore, we can fund resilience improvements that benefit the lives and livelihoods of Chicagoans (and, see below, our new neighbors).

Illustrative immediate next steps for the City and its collaborations with sister agencies and districts:

-       Increase resilience project bankability/investability through changes to utility rate structures based on social equity considerations and more reflective of service delivery’s true costs. 

-       Increase cross-department resilience project pipeline identification, as well as collaborative implementation, to further collateral benefits generated by rate-based department budgets.

-       Consider issuing green revenue bonds for resilience investments.[3] to attract new investors to the City of Chicago, free up more GO and other City assets for social safety net priorities, and further the City’s brand as a more climate resilient place.

-       Investigate evolving risk transfer options (including parametric insurance and cat bonds), using brokers to model risks and secure the best deals, ensuring the right cover for the right price and building requirement for resilience, based on risk, into insurance contracts.[4]

Expected outcomes:

-       Stable municipal credit ratings.

-       More City money available to serve constituents.

-       Less City revenue, livelihood and life lost from shock (e.g., extreme precipitation) and stress (e.g., extreme heat) events.

-       More resilience mainstreamed in City’s essential/critical infrastructure.

-       More interdepartmental project collaboration to increase value of city services for Chicagoans.

-       Fewer Chicagoans suffering from flooding and extreme heat, more Chicagoans benefitting from better, water, transit, public health services. 

What we can plan for longer-term implementation:

Compared to other major American cities, Chicago in coming decades will be distinctly positioned to receive our neighbors forced from their communities by rising sea levels, more extreme coastal storms and more wildfires. If we create a resilient city for our current residents, Chicago will be a fantastic receiving community for the next great migration – an estimated 13.1 million people on the move by 2100[5] from America’s vulnerable sea coasts and hot spots.

The transformation required to create this amazing place for our new neighbors should bring elements of restorative justice to our lower resourced (nonwhite, recent immigrants, non-English speakers, poor, chronically ill, female-headed households and renters) communities, providing quantifiable benefits to our current residents. is a good guide for programs, partnerships and policies that will greatly contribute to lives and livelihoods of Chicagoans.

In addition, recommendations from other transition committee policy areas will create resilience (e.g., Business, Economic and Neighborhood Development; Public Health; Education; Public Safety and Accountability; Housing; Transportation and Infrastructure; Good Governance; Arts and Culture and Youth).

The key is to act on the knowledge that lower resourced communities suffer most from climate and weather hazards,[6] experiencing more damage and possessing less political clout to advocate for fixes.[7]

Immediate Next Steps:

-       Provide each department with a map of Chicago’s poverty by neighborhood,  and ask department heads to identify their plans to create social equity in their budgets, provisioning best-in-class public services in lower resourced communities.

Expected Outputs:

-       Social equity based budgets and work plans for Chicago’s departments (and sister agencies).

Expected Outcomes:

-       Chicago neighborhoods offer safety, security, stability and joy to residents and welcome all, including lower resourced Americans, who have lost their family wealth due to climate change impacts.


Disclosure:  I, Joyce Coffee, President of Climate Resilience Consulting, work with institutions that focus on actions recommended in this memo.


 This memo was first published at

[1] Expected Outputs:
-City facility and energy database that allows effective planning and transparent tracking of progress towards 100% renewable energy through efficiency, renewable development, and enhanced energy procurement
- RFP for energy supply services in 2020 and beyond that incorporates innovative approaches to renewable energy development that brings job creation and other benefits to the neighborhoods most affected by climate change and industrial pollution
- Visible City-facilitated solar developments in a diverse set of Chicago neighborhoods, including vacant and brownfield sites  
- Foundation resourcing and partnerships that augment the planning and capacity of City personnel and contractors
- REC ownership that demonstrates achievement of an early milestone in Chicago’s 100% renewable energy transition

[2] Illustrative references:;;





[7] and


Money for Resilience, By the Numbers

This blog is co-authored by Baylee Ritter. It originally appeared in Triple Pundit.

In early April, global investment firm BlackRock released a seminal report on assessing climate risks. It focused on U.S. municipal bonds, commercial mortgage-backed securities and electric utilities. The report got me thinking about where we might look for funds and finance for climate resilience. Here’s what we found: On balance, if we make strategic decisions for resilience starting now, the numbers suggest we can find such necessary financing now.

By the numbers:

  • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. economic losses from 14 natural catastrophes in 2018 amounted to $91 billion. 80 percent of that total loss was caused by Hurricane Michael, Hurricane Florence and the California wildfires.

  • Although quite a staggering loss, $91 billion is nominal compared to the cost of real estate assets at risk in 2070 if we make no changes to our current carbon emission trajectory. The United Nations Environmental Program Financial Initiative estimates that $35 trillion is at risk. That represents about half of today’s global assets under management in any industry sector ($79.2 trillion global assets under management, as of 2018). 

  • Globally, $463 billion is invested in climate change—a number that only continues to rise. But when $13.5 trillion in global energy investment is needed from INDCs (for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) and nearly $7 trillion must be invested in global infrastructure between 2017 and 2032, $463 billion seems, again, quite nominal. 

These numbers demonstrate that a changing climate is having a significant impact on the economy, and the economic cost of climate change will only worsen if we make no changes to our current carbon emissions trajectory. While the amount invested in climate change doesn’t match the global investment needs to update infrastructure, the $79.2 trillion in assets under management globally suggest we still have the means to reduce climate risks through both mitigation and resilience.

This urgency will continue to grow, driven by tragedies that define the resilience gap. Last year’s National Climate Assessment spotlighted the costs we already are experiencing:

  • Flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in 2011, triggered by heavy rainfall, caused an estimated $5.7 billion in damages.

  • Drought in 2012 caused widespread agricultural losses to crops and livestock, and low water levels along the Mississippi River affected transportation of goods, resulting in an estimated $33 billion in losses.

  • Annual federal firefighting costs have ranged from $809 million to $2.1 billion per year between 2000 and 2016.

Important work is already being done. From the Climate Bonds Initiative to the Global Adaptation and Resilience Investment WorkGroup, financial sector experts are working to create mechanisms in the financial markets that make it more likely that assets under management will include more climate change resilience projects. That’s important as the gap in resilience finance, which the Climate Policy Initiative doggedly tracks annually, grows wider. But the longer we wait to fund such projects, the far more expensive they will be in the long term.

What Can We Learn about Resilience from the Bay Area

Guest post by Naseem Falla

The City of San Francisco (and the entire Bay Area) have historically developed innovative solutions to the social, economic and environmental challenges facing the region. Not surprisingly, the region has been on the vanguard of the growing resilience movement, addressing their challenges with a proactive approach by launching several resilient programs designed to strengthen resilience and mitigate the impacts of regional challenges ranging from social inequity, population growth and unaffordable living costs, to earthquakes and sea level rise. 

Although resilience programs launched after natural disasters are vital to successfully building back stronger, communities who have not experienced a disaster in recent years should learn from the Bay Area’s proactive approach of addressing and mitigating the impacts of vulnerabilities before a threat or disaster even occurs.

Key to the Region’s resilience approach has also been engaging a wide range of regional, national and global stakeholders in resilience initiatives. Casting a wide net when it comes to crafting resilience programs and groups allows for a more holistic resilience approach that truly encompasses the needs of all community sectors across the community.   

Three programs in the Region help to further these tactics:

Resilient San Francisco

Resilient San Francisco: Stronger Today, Stronger Tomorrow is a living document developed in 2016 that lays out the City’s resilience goals and sets forth a strategic resilience vison and plan. The study is the outcome of a successful partnership among public, private and nonprofit sectors, along with stakeholders and local community leaders.

The plan highlights the City’s “integrated approach” towards examining linkages and systems of resilience and focuses on increasing the City and Bay Area’s capacity to accommodate a predicted spike in population growth by 2040.

It integrates several existing public/private resilience initiatives, such as:

·       The Lifelines Council: Develops and improves systems that provide vital transportation, electric power, water, liquid fuel, natural gas and communication services during and after a disaster.

·       Earthquake Safety Implementation Program: Communicates San Francisco’s vulnerabilities to earthquakes and develops action plans for seismic safety.

·       Earthquake Safety Implementation Program (EIFS): A 30-year, 50-task community/city program to develop earthquake risk reduction public policy.

Resilient by Design

Always searching for new ideas to strengthen their resilience, the San Francisco Bay Area conducted a design challenge modeled on the Northeast’s post-Hurricane Sandy Rebuild by Design competition. The challenge launched in May 2017, and culminated a year later with nine winning projects – one winner for each community-identified vulnerable Bay Area site.


The competition connected local corporations, community members, government officials, and regional experts with internationally recognized resilience leaders. Winning projects ranged from “South Bay Sponge,” a natural infrastructure approach using marshlands and Salt Ponds for flood protection, to “Estuary Commons,” a network of public green spaces created from the construction of ponds, landforms and expanded streams to manage and preserve the area’s natural resources.

The regional approach fostered relationships, collaboration and a realization of just how large of an impact (positive and negative) one community’s actions can have on surrounding Bay Area communities.

Bay Area Housing and Community Multiple Hazards Risk Assessment

Completed in January 2015, this multi-agency project was led by the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission to develop strategies for safe growth in the area. The study included two phases: a Vulnerability Assessment, followed by Strategy Development. To improve Bay Area’s resilience, this program focuses on the intersection between housing and community vulnerability.

Like the Bay Area, other communities can benefit from taking a proactive approach to resilience by assessing their existing and future threats before a trigger event, and by engaging a wide range of stakeholders in resilience planning initiatives and actions. Integrating the perspectives of local public and private sector organizations, community members, NGOs, national and international thought leaders, and more, makes way for resilient programs that don’t just address the built environment, but also consider the social and economic elements that build more resilient communities.

Ms. Falla is a climate resilience specialist at the Institute for Building Technology and Safety, @IBTS_org, a Climate Resilience Consulting Client

Five Resilience Trends to Watch in 2019

This oped originally appeared in Triple Pundit

Americans depend on our country’s transportation, energy and water supply systems. This infrastructure is under increasing stress as coastal storms, wildfires, drought and sea level rise. And there are countless questions on how to gain the political will, as well as the funds and financing for both infrastructure modernization and new infrastructure in the face of these growing hazards. We’re detecting these trends involving climate adaptation and resilience we expected will emerge or occur in 2019.

Resilience finance will go mainstream.

From theClimate Bonds Initiativeto theGlobal Adaptation and Resilience Investment WorkGroup, finance sector experts are working to create mechanisms in the financial markets that make it more likely that assets under management will include more climate change resilience projects. That’s important, since the gap in resilience finance, which the Climate Policy Initiative doggedly tracks annually, grows wider. Creating principles for resilience-related green bonds is a high priority in the growing climate bond field.

Resilience funding will increase.

Both the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency received increased mitigation-related appropriations, in part through the "Disaster Recovery Reform Act." Going forward,FEMA can use 6 percentof its Disaster Relief Fund on pre-disaster mitigation andHUD allocated $28 billionto support long-term disaster recovery in nine states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with $16 billion earmarked for risk mitigation. Rules and guidelines for accessing these competitive grants are on the agencies’ 2019 to-do list.

Climate change-driven migration will be better organized.

Even as Louisiana grapples with the ongoing migration of families from their southern parishes because of climate-related issues (e.g., in Plaquemine Parish, 67 percent of the population left between 2000 and 2015), it and other states seek ways tocreate capacity and opportunityin receiving communities. We even have a term for this change:“Climigration.” It was coined by Robin Bronen, executive director of theAlaska Institute for Justice,to replace the commonly used misnomer “climate refugee.” 

Resilience news will become more ubiquitous.

The resilience-related news cycle will grow, driven by growing tragedies that define theresilience gap. Last year’sNational Climate Assessmentspotlighted the costs we already are experiencing:

  • Flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers in 2011, triggered by heavy rainfall, caused an estimated $5.7 billion in costs.

  • Drought in 2012 caused widespread agricultural losses to crops and livestock, and low water levels along the Mississippi River affected transportation of goods. resulting in an estimated $33 billion in losses.

  • Annual federal firefighting costs have ranged from $809 million to $2.1 billion per year between 2000 and 2016.

Experts in many sectors now assert how climate change risk is impacting their goals, resulting, for instance, in a 10-fold increase in my resilience-related Google feed – the source of many of mytweetsthe past year.

Rural America will continue to bear the brunt of catastrophic loss.

Many Americans still live, work and play in smaller towns and cities where most climate change-related tragedy strikes – from Paradise, California, to Mexico Beach, Florida. Resources focused on smaller communities, such asFlood Forum USAandOnline Help and Advice for Natural Disasters, are going to be even more in demand.

Are you detecting other resilience-related trends? Please let me know. Contact me on Twitter.

Image credit: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr


This blog originally appeared on IBTS’s free OnHand platform:

As part of resilience planning, local leaders must assess how local hazards and threats may impact their financial resources in order to both strengthen existing resources and prevent the community’s finances from plunging into the red in the event of a natural or manmade disaster or threat.

Ideally, communities should look at ways to build more resilient finances before a disaster, however local leaders can also integrate resilient financing options into their disaster recovery plans. The tips below provide advice and ideas for getting started with evaluating and strengthening your finances against the impacts of hazards and threats.

Know your hazards so you can assess their potential financial impacts.

  • There is no magic formula for predicting financial impacts, but you should learn as much about the potential impact of your natural hazards as possible.

  • Free publicly available tools, typically organized by hazard, get better all the time. For instance, local leaders can try Climate Central’s set of easy to use maps to visualize heat, smoke, drought, flood and other vulnerabilities.

Consider how your future hazards could impact the flow of taxes and funding streams in your community.

  • Prioritize the potential biggest losses, and develop solutions to address them first.

    • For example, if you determine that a major rain storm could flood and shut down your main street businesses, resolve the flooding issue so that your sales tax base isn’t halted in the event of a flood.

Build relationships with regional local leaders, not just their emergency management, to further opportunities for risk pooling and shared solutions to financial disaster recovery.

  • Disasters and disaster declarations rarely impact just one jurisdiction, your recovery approach should integrate existing regional partnerships to pool resources and recover efficiently.

  • Regional allies can help bring more state and federal funds to your community, and solutions that benefit the region.

  • Many citizens live in one jurisdiction but work in another; a recovery strategy that benefits multiple communities can increase citizen support and satisfaction.

  • Consider including utilities in your regional planning. Because they typically serve a multi-jurisdiction region, they can be strong resources and allies in regional resilience.

Integrate bankable projects into your planning as much as possible to create long-term revenue sources.   

  • Bankable projects are revenue-generating and include things like public transit systems and toll roads. They require taxes and fees or fees to pay them back. As climate risks are set to grow in the future, working with elected officials and your constituents to ensure you have adequate revenue for resilience investments today that protect from tomorrow’s risk is key.

  • Local governments can also integrate more creative solutions like tourism revenue on parks.

Mainstream prevention measures into your capital and operating budgets to ensure that each of your infrastructure investments are designed, built and maintained with hazards in mind.

  • Infrastructure built to withstand hazards mitigates damage and reduces emergency spending and service interruptions if a hazard or sudden threat does occur.

Be prepared for your next interaction with credit rating agencies.

  • Credit rating agencies are aware of your community’s hazards, and they want to know that you are too. Be prepared to demonstrate hazards and risks facing your community, and how you’re addressing them.

Consider emerging, innovative types of financing such as catastrophe bonds.

  • Catastrophe bonds protect governments or government entities against a specified disaster with an established objective metric such as mortality rate, wind speed, or flood water level.

  • If a disaster meets the specified trigger conditions, the bond investments are released to be applied towards response and recovery.

  • Smaller local governments can consider taking a regional approach to catastrophe bonds by issuing them through a regional entity such as a Council of Governments (COG).

Big money for U.S. resilience

I recently co-led an American Institute of Architect event in New York City, Funding the Future Workshop: Resilience Planning Across Public & Private Sectors, and was captivated by a presentation from Heather Roiter, Director of Hazard Mitigation at the NYC Office of Emergency Management. She elucidated the millions of dollars in federal monies her office keeps tabs on. It got me wondering what the federal purse for resilience is.  You may be surprised, as I was, by the sums – including a pivot at FEMA about pre-disaster (aka resilience funding) that we should all laud in addition to the agency’s disaster response and recovery dollars - $395M + 6% of FEMA assistance per disaster declaration nationwide.

Globally, the sums are even bigger.  Earlier this week, the World Bank announced $200 billion in funding for climate action, a significant portion of which it plans to spend on adaptation and resilience. 

As last week’s U.S. National Climate Assessment asserted, the stakes are so very high. It is up to all of us to use this money efficiently – leveraging it with assets from the private sector and applying it to projects that build social equity while saving lives and improving livelihoods.

Here is a non-exhaustive list in hopes it is helpful:

FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation Funding

●      Funding is available for mitigation nationwide. This is the only consistent pot of federal funding dedicated to risk-reducing physical projects.

●      Flood Mitigation Assistance

○      Reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings and structures insured under the National Flood Insurance Program.

○      FY18 - $160M available annually nationwide (Congress appropriated).

○      Competitive nationwide.

●      Pre-disaster Mitigation

○      Implement and sustain cost-effective measures designed to reduce risk to individuals and property while reducing the resilience on federal funding for future disasters.

○      FY18 - $235M available annually nationwide (Congress appropriated).

○      Competitive nationwide.

●      National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Mitigation

○      Fund to be funded as a 6 percent set-aside from disaster expenses to enable a greater investment in mitigation before a disaster.

○      6 percent of FEMA assistance per disaster declaration nationwide.

○      Competitive nationwide.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

●      Grant program to support long-term disaster recovery in hard-hit areas in nine states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

●      States covered: California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina.

●      $28 billion will be used to address seriously damaged housing, businesses and infrastructure from major disasters that occurred since 2015.

○      Grants represent the largest single amount of disaster recovery assistance in HUD’s history.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)National Estuary Program (NEP) Coastal Watersheds Grant

●      Supports projects that address urgent and challenging issues that threaten the ecological and economic well-being of coastal and estuarine areas.

●      Federal funds expected to be available under this announcement is approximately $4 million ($1 million for each of the first four years) depending on agency funding levels, the quality of applications received and other applicable considerations.

○      EPA requires the applicant to provide a minimum 25 percent match of the total federal request.

●      Competitive nationwide.

Green Project Reserve - Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF)

●      10 percent of the funds made available under the Clean Water State Revolving Fund shall be used by a state for projects to address green infrastructure, water or energy efficiency improvements, or other environmentally innovative activities.

●      FY 2018 CWSRF Final Allotments: $1,655,202,000.

●      Competitive nationwide.

Federal Funding Compendium for Urban Heat Adaptation

●      The Georgetown Climate Center produced an in-depth document with information related to 44 separate federal programs that could support cities and states in reducing the impacts of urban heat.


Thank you to Baylee Ritter for her help researching this article.

Key Findings from Climate Adaptation Report

This post originally appeared on Meeting of the Minds:

Even as we work tirelessly and in the face of great obstacles to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, humans have already set in motion impacts from climate change — many of which we’re witnessing in real time: more frequent and intense storms, flooding, sea level rise, drought, and extreme weather events. This year’s tragic impact from Hurricane Florence, wildfires, and river floods adds to miseries like last year’s Harvey, Irma and Maria.  Thus, communities around the world are embracing climate adaptation measures and plans to be resilient to what the future will bring — and what the present is already delivering.

What’s the state of those local climate adaptation efforts? A report “Rising to the Challenge, Together” report  that I co-authored for The Kresge Foundation was released late last year and is billed as “a critical assessment of the state of the climate adaptation field in the US.”

At the request of Kresge, a leading philanthropy focused on adaptation in the US, I joined with Dr. Susi Moser with Susanne Moser Research and Consulting and Aleka Seville at the time with Four Twenty Seven Inc. to conduct interviews and surveys with almost 100 leaders representing the public, private, and NGO/civic sectors and academia, covering a wide range of adaptation-related expertise and perspectives.

The key finding?

Climate adaptation has begun to emerge as a field of practice; however, it is not evolving quickly or deliberately enough for communities to adequately prepare for the dangerous shocks and stresses that increasingly will be introduced by climate change.

Our team identified a number of challenges:

  • The adaptation field does not have a unifying vision of a better future. It remains mostly reactive, rather than proactive.

  • A sense of urgency is lacking, and too many adaptation efforts are stalled at the planning stage.

  • The prevailing emphasis on urban adaptation leaves small towns and rural areas behind, and neglects important interdependencies between cities and surrounding areas.

  • While there is growing awareness of the disproportionate impact of climate change on the most vulnerable—and the need for equitable solutions—few adaptation actors understand how to incorporate equity into their work.

There are plenty of positive signs. The field has a growing purpose as climate impacts are driving adaptation. New actors and networks have energized the adaptation field, including city networks, community groups, utilities, and the private sector.  And in particular, the practice of adaptation is gaining ground – here are 5 key marks of progress:

  1. The knowledge base on adaptation is improving.

  2. Tools supporting adaptation are increasingly available, but remain difficult to select and use.

  3. Science and practice are increasingly working together, yet more collaboration is needed.

  4. Adaptation mandates are emerging in some states and cities.

  5. Funding from philanthropy and government has been crucial for field growth.

The report lays out a clear vision for the adaptation field’s future: Closing the resilience gap through significantly accelerated mitigation and adaptation efforts while building social cohesion and equity.

Fig.3_Closing the Resilience Gap.jpg

What is the resilience gap? It’s the gulf between adequate levels of mitigation and adaptation that is especially profound where social cohesion and equity are lacking.

The vision of narrowing this gap inspires the maturing adaptation field to prevent, minimize, and alleviate climate change threats to human well-being and to the natural and built systems on which humans depend. It’s exciting to fulfill this mission, because by doing so we create new opportunities -addressing the causes and consequences of climate change in ways that solve related social, environmental, and economic problems. (Moser et al 2017, Rising to the Challenge, Together, pp 9).


Taking Adaptation Mainstream

The report points out that the most efficient and effective way to get a move on adaptation is to “mainstream it, integrating it into existing government and policy structures. Adaptation barriers and capacity needs that can be addressed through mainstreaming include:

  • Financial constraints: Adaptation work can be advanced within existing budgets without having to secure additional, separate, or new funding sources.

  • Political hurdles: Climate change considerations can be integrated into projects and programs already underway to protect them from short election cycles and political opposition.

  • Inadequate planning processes: Existing plans, processes, and solution options can be informed and improved by consideration of future climate impacts.

  • Limited authority: Where dedicated climate, sustainability, or resilience staff do not have the authority to influence other processes (such as hazard mitigation plans, public health vulnerability assessments, capital planning), mainstreaming balances responsibility among multiple agencies and departments with authority to act.

  • Capacity deficiencies: Where there are no dedicated staff for climate change and resilience (especially in small and medium-sized cities and towns), mainstreaming is the only viable, near-term approach.

  • Lack of motivation: In the face of multiple competing priorities, finding overlaps and co-benefits between adaptation and other goals can elevate the urgency to act.

  • Lack of consistency: Mandates from higher government levels can help ensure that lower-level entities address climate change and do so consistently across jurisdictional boundaries.

  • Language barriers: If climate change is politically or conceptually problematic, using the vernacular of existing processes can help open doors and engage broader audiences.

  • Separate/siloed approaches: Mainstreaming can initiate better coordination of previously disconnected efforts, build broader support, uncover budget overlaps and complementarities, and achieve additional benefits.”

Even in the year since completing the report, we’ve seen profound growth in the adaptation field. For instance, the Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures guidelines released in mid 2017 have created a new interest among investors to know their physical risks. Similarly, several of the major credit agencies are examining these risks when evaluating municipal bonds, growing the pool of interested city practitioners.  The Global Climate Action Summit and affiliated events like Meeting of the Mind’s Climate Resilient Communities session in partnership with UC Davis defined a refreshed global ambition for resilience. And, while the Federal government has made it harder to find some of the data to help the average professional incorporate an understanding of risk and adaptation into their everyday work, others in the non profit and private sector have made their tools more available, more refined, and more related to very specific geographies.

These are just a few of the significant advances the field is experiencing, and, along with the momentum from the 100 experts we interviewed for the report, they make me quite hopeful for our future.

Does climate resilience matter for small-town America?

Where are you from? Your parents? Chances are most of you will answer from small or mid-sized town. These communities offer incredible opportunity for climate resilience – and incredible loss if left out of the resilience renaissance led by large cities.

In the U.S, with only roughly 700 cities above 50,000 in population and with two-thirds of Americans residing in these small and mid-sized cities, it begs the question: Does resilience matter to smaller cities?   

For the past four years, I have convened resilience-related events at Climate Week New York. This year, with dozens of small and mid-sized cities rebounding from Hurricane Florence and from the summer’s destructive wildfires, an expert panel at the recently concluded summit offered some answers. (By the way, it’s great progress that while our events used to be the only ones offering resilience programs, about a dozen events explicitly about felt climate risk and resilience dotted this year’s schedule.)

During Monday’s panel session, panelist Patrick Howell, director of resilience initiatives at the Institute for Building Technology and Safety (a client), maintained that based on the Institute’s provision of daily operations and disaster recovery assistance to 130-plus small communities, three reasons explain why resilience matters to smaller cities:

  • Unlike in large cities where significant civil society, nonprofit, and corporate engagement resides, small and mid-sized city governments are on the front lines of disaster resilience. These local governments must provide day-to-day life safety and quality of life and are responsible for the first 72 hours of response after a disaster event erupts.

  • Even more than in large cities, resilience planning and action in these smaller communities are often constrained by lack of resources and capital.

  • Leaving smaller communities out of the resilience movement exacerbates the urban/rural divide.

The other panelists – Franco Montalto, director of the North American Hub for the Urban Climate Change Research Network; Cooper Martin, program director of the National League of Cities’ Sustainable Cities Institute; and William Solecki, director of the CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities and lead author of several chapters in the International Panel on Climate Change assessment and the National Climate Assessment – identified four resilience-related essentials smaller cities need:

  1. Actionable risk assessments: Assessments specific to a community to help inform pragmatic and incremental resilience plans – IBTS has found their city partners appreciate a framework and tools for community resilience assessment – they call it “CRAFT”.

  2. Priority solutions: Avenues that supply the larger needs of the community and resilience to future threats. “Building resilience through an understanding of community needs builds relevance and broad-based support,.” explained Montalto.)

  3. Better valuation of projects: Traditional and innovative models to finance and fund the next era of climate resilience, including an emphasis on project revenue generation.

  4. Engagement: Stakeholders beyond the government, such as school Parent Teacher Associations and Chambers of Commerce, are key partners in resilience success.

But what do these smaller communities require that is unlike their larger counterparts? The answer is nuanced, yet  a few key elements are evident:

1.    A local government resilience intrapreneur: Someone within the government who surfaces resilience themes and uses political drivers to draw interest to resilience from other government quarters. Just one official in a small city government – whether a civil servant, mayor, city council member or a utility leader – can trigger resilience engagement. NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience possesses a dozen examples of nascent mid-sized city resilience inspired by intrapreneurs in smaller communities such as Kingston, N.Y.; Durango, Colo.; Annapolis, Md.; Bozeman, Mont.; and San Leandro, Calif. Often, noted Montalto, these leaders are town engineers or public works and water and drainage utility officials.

2.    Coordination across regions: With limited resources and significant interoperability between jurisdictions covering first responders, water treatment and other utility services to employers and schools, some smaller cities rely heavily on metro area and cooperative regional councils to magnify and leverage resources. This insight reflects regional collaboration that IBTS supports in and around Guymon, Okla.; Bossier City, La.;  Norristown, Pa.; and Hudson Valley, N.Y., as well as Solecki’s work with the Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast.

3.    Community loyalty leverage: An area for significant opportunity cited by both Montalto and Solecki involves looking beyond government to resilience stakeholders in small and mid-sized cities who are loyal and deeply committed to their communities and excellent stakeholders for bringing resilience forward. Their help will enhance the adaptation solution set since myriad knowledge sources – indigenous, local, and science-based – exist and are needed to build resilience’s brain trust and action bank.  

4.    Enhanced interoperability of systems: In smaller communities with fewer staff, civil servants may have responsibilities across several services and systems, such as both water treatment and potable water service delivery. Martin noted that, by law, mayors are in charge of water service delivery in their communities and Howell remarked that “Smaller cities have agency over the trajectory of their development.” While disaster-driven cascading failures affect cities of any size, leaders in smaller cities responsible for multiple systems but potentially more resource-constrained may actually be better able to enhance adaptability across systems.

Also, the experts explained that several best practices in smaller cities mirror those of larger cities, including:

•      Don’t miss opportunities for multifunctional infrastructure. Ask resilience questions of capital projects early in the concept and design phases and throughout procurement through operation.

•      Aim to create scale and complementarity, asking if decentralized initiatives are up to the major challenges ahead.

•      Seek to integrate risk management, city development and greenhouse gas mitigation to create truly climate resilient development pathways for those, Solecki points out, provides a reminder of the power of transformation in any setting.

So, remember where you’re from, and take that heartfelt affection and consider reaching out to your hometown with offers to support its resilience efforts.

As I write this, I’m off to Boulder, Colo., my hometown and home to climate change-induced wildfires and flash floods as well as sophisticated adaptation and resilience strategies and leaders from whom I hope to learn more lessons on adaptation and resilience approach.  

Resilient Golden Arches – Structurally and Sustainably

This article originally appeared on Triple Pundit

Those golden arches of McDonald’s, among the most recognized logos in the word, are actually a catenary arch, a super strong architectural feature that has helped ensure resilience buildings for centuries. So, does the ubiquitous yellow pair that graces roughly 37,000 McDonald’s worldwide represent a company resilient to current and future changes?

At last week’s Global Climate Action Summit, I sat down with Keith Kenny, McDonald’s Global Vice President of Sustainability to learn about the company’s resilience story. He asserted that climate resilience is both an environmental and economic imperative for the company.

“Farmer livelihoods and related thriving rural communities are important to us because our restaurants are in those communities,” he explained. “That gets forgotten when we speak about sustainable agriculture.  Farmers need to be able to reinvest in their business. Just as we invest in them.”

That belief proved to be McDonald’s inspiration for its Flagship Farmers Program, which connects farmers interested in continuous improvement and sustainable practices. Its platform notes that climate change is affecting agriculture, causing droughts, floods, more storms and heat waves. The program encourages farmers “to adapt and develop our farming systems to be more resilient to these changing environmental conditions.”

Publicly recognizing these hazards caused by changes in climate – and predicted to grow over time – offers a good start on the path to making climate resilience a key feature of the business.

Keith pointed out that McDonald’s invests in supply chain projects with a 20-30 year payback, which makes them both climate change sensitive and focused on resilience to ensure year-over-year payback. Unlike other retailers with tens of thousands of items on their shelves, “15-to-20 items represent 70 percent of what we sell,” he said. “We have long-term relationships with our suppliers. Most of them have grown their business as we have grown ours.”

This is key, for instance, for beef consistency – patty to patty – throughout the world and also for long oblong potato varietals conducive to harvest times, storage and its fries.

This is a significant improvement from McDonald’s supply chain response of about five years ago. Then, under different leadership, its response to a question of what McDonald’s was doing to adapt its supply chain to climate change was to exclaim, “We’ll just tell Canada to get ready to grow canola if it gets to hot and dry to grow it in the lower 48.”

Its fresh approach may bring McDonald’s more into the climate-resilient supply chain vanguard with such companies as Mars Inc. and Coca Cola that have collaborated with the nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility to launch a Climate-Resilient Value Chains Leaders Platform announced at last week’s Summit.  

Though McDonald’s has yet to officially join that initiative, it is among a group of food companies including Keurig Green Mountain, Heinz and Chipotle making initial strides on climate resilience. And, like other big companies, climate action to reduce greenhouse gasses is becoming more of a priority. This year, McDonald’s announced it was partnering with franchisees and suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to its restaurants and offices by 36 percent by 2030 from a 2015 base year in a new strategy to address climate change. It also committed to a 31 percent decrease in emissions intensity per metric ton of food and packaging across its supply chain by 2030 from 2015 levels, and the combined target has been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.

Keith said innovation is key to McDonald’s resilience and sees soil health as a “huge opportunity” that the company is exploring with such partners as the World Wildlife Fund and the University of Arizona. In addition, he enumerated the many collateral benefits of pursuing adaptive multi-paddock grazing – moving cow herds from paddock to paddock – that allows soil to regenerate by giving native plants a chance to establish deeper roots. This enhances carbon sequestration and water retention and filtration while increasing productivity with more animals grazed on the same land.

Keith also offered another example of how its thinking about climate change and resilience has changed, and it reflects that McDonald’s is a surf-and-turf restaurant. Cod fished from the North Atlantic were a key element of McDonald’s filet-o-fish sandwich until environmental organization Greenpeace brought McDonald’s and others to task for fishing in a warming ocean where melting ice flows are exposing previously frozen areas. Keith was invited by Greenpeace to journey on its Arctic Sunrise ship to see firsthand “what the fish are up to” in a climate-changed world.  

In May 2016, McDonald’s and more than a dozen other seafood industry giants joined forces to protect a large area of the Arctic from increased fishing. The voluntary agreement commits the companies from expanding cod fishing into a previously ice-covered portion of the Northern Barents Sea in the Arctic.

Onward! Resilience Takeaways from the Global Climate Action Summit

This article originally appeared on Triple Pundit.

In some ways, it’s surprising how little the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit focused on climate adaptation. Only two the 500 official announcements emanating from the annual event, which concluded last Friday, relate to adaptation.

And though The Exponential Climate Action Roadmap, published on the CGAS opening day by its leadership, explained that “the roadmap outlines the global economic transformation required by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement on climate,” it asserted that the Paris Agreement’s goal to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change “can be achieved if greenhouse gas emissions peak by 2020, halve by 2030 and then halve again by 2040 and 2050.”  

Actually, this isn’t quite right. The Paris accord has goals – plural. In addition to the above objective, the Paris Agreement covers global approval for adaptation, resilience and reduced vulnerability. It requires signatory nations to plan and apply adaptation, report adaptation efforts and needs, and – every five years – measure adequacy, effectiveness and progress. Indeed half of the Paris Climate Agreement is about adaptation. (For those of you who keep score, adaptation is mentioned 47 times in the agreement while mitigation only 23.  Check it out.)

So while the climate media and GCAS may be distorting the Agreement’s reality, the resilience initiatives featured at the Summit and affiliated events are awesome and deserve to be encouraged and supported in their own right.  

Here is my roundup of a baker’s dozen of highlights that deserve our attention and promotion as we fuel ambition for adaptation:

  1. James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Authority at the Summit representing the National Association of Counties and discussing Community Readiness boldly pointed out that to break the damage/repair/damage/repair cycle  in certain cases, we must “make climate action happen by migrating households out of harm’s way.”  

  2. Sanjay Wagle, Managing Director of the Lightsmith Group, launched a resilience finance technical facility for lower income and small island nations, based on the progress of the firm’s award-winning Climate Resilience and Adaptation Finance and Technology-transfer facility (CRAFT). 

  3. Emilie Mazzacurati, founder and CEO of Four Twenty Seven Inc., introduced the firm’s latest innovation, a project to identify and calculate the macroeconomic risks of climate change for every country and ensure that governments can access its data.

  4. Tom Steyer (At the Cities4Climate Event hosted by C40), who is a hedge fund manager, philanthropist, activist and the money and brains behind Risky Business, gave credit for California’s progress on climate action to community activists. He contended that California’s climate progress “is due to the leadership of the environmental justice movement – they are the high water mark in terms of morality. They make climate change a kitchen table issue.”

  5. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), is working on the biggest climate change killer out there, heat stress, by helping Indian states adopt heat action plans with public awareness campaigns, better identification of vulnerable populations and expanded use of reflective surfaces.

  6. C40 for its Deadline 2020 initiative – a commitment from 73 cities, representing over 425 million citizens, to develop inclusive climate action plans to strengthen resilience and address adaptation along with mitigation in their work.

  7. ICF’s Robert Kay, who foresaw that GCAS would be a key set of dialogues and initiated plans for the robust affiliate event, “Building Resilience Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow,” that brought together the Global Resilience Partnership with BSR and the United Nations initiative, Anticipate, Absorb, Reshape.

  8. Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) hosted a Climate and Resilience Preview where real estate investors waded into the deep of both reporting the climate risk embedded in their holdings and working to mitigate it. It included Romilly Madew, CEO of Australia’s Green Building Council, who has mainstreamed real estate climate change risk assessment among her members.

  9. The Pacific Coast Collaborative led by Governors Jerry Brown (CA) and Jay Inslee (WA), who launched a new effort to strengthen climate resilience through collaboration that results in climate resilience for local communities and infrastructure.

  10. Global Adaptation and Resilience Investment (GARI) work group and Willis Towers Watson’s Carlos Sanchez, who together are promoting the development of financial tools and instruments for the management of portfolio exposure to climate risks.

  11. Connecticut Governor Dannell P. Malloy led with his proudest climate action: Creating resilience through traditional finance by applying state bond proceeds to neighborhood microgrids. This occurred after the state was pummeled by extreme snow events that cut power for days.

  12. BSR provided leadership from Samantha Harris with its new Climate-Resilient Value Chains Leaders Platform. Launched with climate resilience leaders Mars Inc. and Coca Cola, the initiative focuess on long-term models for corporate buying that require resilience.

  13. Mayor Lionell Johnson Jr. of St. Gabriel, Louisiana, (population: 6,677),who launched the Mississippi River Investment Coalition to grow local financing of resilient infrastructure “because the heart of America is experiencing climate change every day, affecting our economies and our workforce.”

Next week, the UN General Assembly is in session and, concurrently, New York City’s 10thClimate Week will be held. More resilience action will occur there as adaptation continues to gain momentum with leaders around the globe.  

Meanwhile, the high-level “Summit Champions” responsible for making GCAS 2018 more than just another meeting by fueling ambition for climate action, are encouraged to think twice about the Paris Climate Agreement – specifically, No. 1, mitigation and No. 2, adaptation.

And act with urgency on both.

Image credit: Joyce Coffee

Weathering the Storm: Real Estate Resilience to Climate Change (Finally) Gets Attention

This article originally appeared on Triple Pundit

“It blows my mind that this is coming up now: Real estate risk from the physical impacts of climate change.”

That’s how Neil Pegram, Director of Americas with GRESB, a global investor-driven benchmark organization that tracks real estate portfolios’ environmental, social and governance performance, welcomed attendees at GRESB’s affiliate event at last week’s Global Climate Action Summit.

Pegram was noting how slow the real estate industry has been in turning its attention to the impact of climate change on real assets, even though climate resistance has become an investment imperative in a sector where such investments often are held for a decade or longer.

It seemed apropos that the GRESB event was taking place as the East Coast prepared for Hurricane Florence’s anticipated wrath and as the real estate industry absorbs the news that 2017’s natural disasters caused an estimated $220 billion in property and infrastructure damage – two-thirds of the $330 billion in global economic losses, figures Munich RE.  

In March, GRESB released a new resilience module, an optional supplement to the GRESB Real Estate and Infrastructure Assessments. It is a significant improvement over the paltry resilience checkbox that GRESB included in prior benchmark frameworks.  

GRESB leaders acknowledged it was the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendation that information related to governance, risk management, strategy, and performance metrics be disclosed that caused them to fortify the resilience benchmark.  

Several real estate investors in attendance described their portfolio’s resilience – and they reinforced the view that an industry awakening has begun. Nina James, General Manager, Corporate Sustainability, for Investa said that resilience generally is considered a “mega trend” and investors place it in the category of a “taking a long-term bet.” Like technology, climate change is viewed as a disruption that influences thinking and begs questions about what effective asset stewardship should look like.  

Martin Kholmatov, Senior Responsible Investment Specialist at AIMCo, acknowledged that a new set of stresses and shocks exists.  “They make us wonder, how is the business model going to evolve.” He said, adding that he and others think that “a proxy for good management is looking at ESG [Environment, Social and Governance] issues.”  

Romilly Madew, representing Australia’s Green Building Council, noted that a growing number of investors ask about resilience. “We tell our members to deal with resilience now and be prepared because investors are going to ask,” she explained.   

And Michelle Bachir of Deloitte pointed out that the firm’s advisory clients “are wondering what to put out there to make it decision useful for investors.  Our clients want to portray their leadership in the space. This is an exciting time.”

But GRESB’s data don’t completely confirm this positive tone. Only 13 percent of Real Estate Assessment GRESB responders – just over 100 firms – submitted information for the resilience module. The vast majority reported on only 20 percent of the resilience module, a poor showing indeed.

Adam Kirkman, Head of ESG at AMP Capital struck a conservative note by asking, “Where is the right time to pull the lever to future proof an asset based on risks down the track….What is the financial engineering resilience required?” He also pointed out that benchmarking is for the current real estate portfolio, while resilience decision-making needs to be built into new assets, too.

Ari Frankel, Sustainability & High-Performance Buildings, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. put a fine point on the challenge beyond GRESB.  Unlike other reporting frameworks such as GRI that requires quantification of progress and check boxes relating pastinformation, TCFD is “transformative, because you are asking investors to look at forward-looking, qualitative and scenario-based uncertainty.”

Let’s hope these real estate mavens attended the actual Global Climate Action Summit. They would have heard from leaders as varied as James Lee Witt,  former FEMA director and current advisor to Fortune 500 companies; Lionel Johnson Jr., mayor of St. Gabriel, La.; former U.S. Vice President Al Gore; Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands; and Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. They warned that the real estate sector’s ongoing drive for coastal development was on a collision course with climate risk, imperiling  real estate assets and humans.  

The UNFCCC’s 3rd Biennial Assessment and Overview of Climate Finance Flows released in April  — a month after GRESB’s resilience module – calculates that real estate assets at risk in 2070 will be $35 trillion (total value).  Now that’s mind-blowing.

Image credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory


Five Adaptation Finance Tips That Can Help Build Resilience Worldwide

This article originally appeared in Triple Pundit.

Extreme weather events and long-term climatic changes are having an impact on economies everywhere, and leaders are grappling with action to adapt and build the resilience of communities, ecosystems, and economies alongside action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.

Hence the rise of adaptation finance, which World Resources Institute has said is necessary as “poor rural areas are frequently the most in need of financial support to strengthen their resilience to climate change, yet they often have the fewest financial resources available.”

To that end, a key question was asked at “Resilience Day” during this week’s Global Climate Action Summit: how do we scale finance for adaptation?”

The question and responses are critically important because, as noted by Barbara Buchner, executive director of the Climate Policy Initiative, finance for climate adaptation in 2017 amounted to just $22 billion vs. $382 billion for climate mitigation.

Here are five answers based on input from several players in the adaptation investment field. These leaders include Sanjay Wagle, managing director of the private socially driven equity investment firm The Lightsmith Group; Dr. Buchner and Kirsten Dunlop, CEO of the European Union’s Climate-KIC; Kathy Baughman-McLeod, senior vice president of Global Environmental & Social Risk, Bank of America; and Mari Yoshitaka, chief consultant for the Clean Energy Finance Division of Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities. For adaptation finance to work and ensure resilience, the following must occur:

  1. Get the adaptation-related policies right. Regulatory uncertainties hinder investors. Especially since finance flow is mostly domestic, investors care about predictability. Nonprofits, bilateral agencies and academic institutions can assist sovereigns with regulatory improvements.

  2. Borrow innovative finance solutions from other sectors, including the vanilla approach of ensuring all government investments are adaptive to climate risk, as well as insurance-linked securities, green bonds and other scalable and replicable means.The International Finance Corporation and other multilateral investment banks can further this work, increasing their emphasis on adaptation from a historic emphasis on mitigation.

  3. Move toward a globally accepted standard for resilience finance including language on the use of proceeds so the market grows with each investment. Commercial and investment banks should be part of this standard-setting, with engagement from the Financial Stability Board and others.

  4. Create facilities, starting in markets easy for investors’ participation, where a blend of philanthropy, impact capital, development finance and regular market capital invests in products and where projects can be wrapped and warehoused for their marketability. Focus especially on multiplying the scant grant resources in ways that inspire more adaptation finance, not just one improved project. Philanthropies, development banks and green investment banks are part of this solution.

  5. Make the existing knowledge about profitable adaptation solutions much more widely known, since investors remain unaware of opportunities in this space. All adaptation thought leaders need to make this a priority, turning risks into investment opportunities.

As this week’s summit gets underway, it is important that we strive to ensure these five directives can help scale up climate adaptation.