Paying for Resilience: Market Drivers and Financial Means

When I worked for the City of Chicago applying its Climate Action Plan, our work was funded by the lack of climate resilience: The City had successfully sued the electric utility for failing to provide service during an extreme heat event, and the settlement paid for many staff and climate-related. That’s a rare situation, though. Today, requests from cities, nonprofits and philanthropy to figure out finance to help fulfill resilience dreams fill my inbox.

In the last few months, I’ve offered counsel to cities as diverse as Minot, N.D. (at the invitation of FEMA), Miami Beach (at the invitation of the Urban Land Institute) and Buras, La. (at the request of the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities). Speaking with these local and innovative government leaders has helped me refine my own understanding of the current state of resilience finance in the U.S.

Here are at least four market inspirations I have gleaned that could drive more resilience finance:

  1. In its report “Climate Adaptation and Liability,” the Conservation Law Foundation unveils numerous cases describing a new era in the “duty to care” for designers, real estate professionals and municipal government officials as events that future climate scenarios envision replace force majeur events.
  2. Although the federal National Flood Insurance Program distorts price signals in the risk transfer elements of the market – and I strongly encourage you to engage on its reauthorization, perhaps starting by reviewing this excellent piece – in such highly vulnerable markets as Houston and Miami, an insurance price signal is emerging as flood insurance premiums rise faster there than elsewhere.
  3. Credit rating. Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have made announcements that the physical risks from climate change will be factored into municipal credit ratings, and S&P has been clearer about this impact, for instance as shown in the article How Our U.S. Local Government Criteria Weather Climate Risk. Municipalities don’t want their debt to be more expensive and, therefore, less attractive to investors, so this is a big deal.
  4. Big data. With the emergence of big data modelers such as Airworldwide, RMS and Core Logic in the past decade, more financial services professionals will have growing access to the cost of both actual and avoided loss from extreme events. While cities cannot afford these big modelers, financial sector parties are applying them to city problems and generating new methods to create “bankability” – revenue generation from projects that traditionally don’t generate rates or fees. For instance, resilience bonds, described in a very approachable way by re:focus partners in this report, link future insurance savings to a bank of funds for current risk mitigation projects.

Along with these drivers, progress continues in the debt market, creating more means to fund city resilience. Most importantly, that headway should include a swift pivot of general obligation bonds from traditional investments that neither create collateral benefits nor consider climate change scenarios to resilience investments promising more long-term return and performance given future risk. That is really the only way to ensure we create resilient cities. But with close to 80,000 issuers of municipal bonds in the country, the four key drivers above are key for ensuring this transition.

At the same time, the growth of innovative bond mechanisms could also help cities increase funds for resilience. The District of Columbia has had success with green bondsfor its water and sewer authority, while the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority has created excellent examples of sustainability bonds’ utility. The resilience bonds mentioned above are another in this category. Of course, catastrophe bonds – some with hurricane triggers – are another insurance-linked mechanism for getting money to cities after disasters.

In a future post, I will suggest ways cities can invite more resilience finance, given these market levers and financial means.

This post originally appeared on Triple Pundit.

Chicago: Taking Tips from the Screwworm

This blog originally appeared on Triple Pundit.  See here

Given the typical irreverence of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, I’m pondering something I think he might like to know: He could be the Screwworm Mayor.

Some of you may know that the lowly screwworm threatened Southwestern cattle in the 20th century, decimating Texas ranchers’ livestock with the wasting disease it triggered.  The tenacity of those hard-scrabble ranchers in the Southwest Cattleman’s Association eradicated this invasive pest by introducing of millions of screwworm flies sterilized by radioactivity. (You with me, Rahm.) The Association contends that this was the most beneficial 20th-century program to livestock producers than any other.*

As science and policy swirls around the introduction of sterile male mosquitoes to help eliminate the global scourge of malaria in some regions, Chicago has its local version.  Here’s our story: In 1986, the mosquito Aedes albopictus – also known as the Asian tiger mosquito – arrived by way of standing water in used tires (which had come full circle from stripped rubber rings in the U.S., then via ship to Asia to be retread and home again) and bamboo.

The mosquito survived in Chicago, despite being well outside its native range, because of the urban heat island effect that increases the temperature of urban areas with lots of black, heat-trapping surfaces. (Think: tar paper roofs and asphalt roads and parking lots.)  In the meantime, while shipping rules for tires and bambooprevented the introduction of more of these pests, every year (10 generations in a mosquito’s life) some live on in Chicagoland, contributing to our mosquito population. As the climate changes, the range for this mosquito will move north.

What if Chicago established a Midwest Mosquito Infertility Association, introducing sterile males specifically for this invasive pest, thus halting that progression?

While mosquito fertility is a topic of much debate, the unique situation of Tigris mosquitos in Chicago gives us a chance to control this experiment and address two of the biggest issues in that debate: One, the population affected isn’t over an entire continent or state (making it harder to eradicate, given the scale of effort), and two, the population is not native to the area (thereby, the web of life does not depend on its existence to keep itself in balance).

Let’s give those tiger mosquitos a wrangle!

*Update:  Those sterile males may need to be called back into service.  The Washington Post reported this fall:  Screwworm outbreak in Florida deer marks first U.S. invasion of the parasite in 30 years.


Hi, Leaders! It’s Adaptation Time!

I treated myself to two days of conferencing last week in my own city at the Chicago Forum on Global Cities, which focused on climate and other global challenges. Co-hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Financial Times, the event featured luminaries from 30 countries.  

The FT’s beautiful salmon-colored newsprint caught my eye both days, first with its special city supplement proclaiming in its cover article: “This would mean that, by the second half of the present century, some big cities could be as much as 10C hotter than their surrounding hinterlands….Many large cities are situated in low-lying coastal areas, leaving them badly exposed to the dangers of flooding that come with rising sea levels and storm surges.” And next with its front page showing an alarming image of central Paris under water. 

Despite the respected business publication’s stark climate prognosis, none of the panelists addressed climate adaptation and none responded to a question posed to the closing full plenary: “Climate Change and Global Cities,” “What role do cities play in increasing adaptive capacity to withstand climate change stresses and shocks?” However, when pressed by the FT moderator, the EU’s former commissioner for climate action only noted, “In Dakha Bangladesh, all they care about is adaptation, not mitigation.”

Tubingen, Germany, Mayor Boris Palmer, an erudite crowd-pleaser, proclaimed:  “It cannot be about adaptation, it must be about mitigation.”  He wisely noted that his success reflects never tiring of explaining the virtue of climate action at a level his audience understands. 

So here goes, an explanation geared to the panelists on the Global Threats to the Global City,  (which did not mention climate change once in 75 minutes).

Abu Dhabi: Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi

The potential exposure of the United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi, in particular, to the impact of sea level rises is quite significant, given its current socioeconomic conditions in coastal areas.  In addition to the effects of such rises on social and economic structures, the vulnerability of coastal ecosystems is also of particular concern.


In the 2011 winter, Chicago incurred over $1.8 billion in losses and 36 deaths when a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on the city. In 2012, Illinois had the second-highest mortality (32 deaths) due to heat nationwide.  


Twenty-nine percent of bus stations and 26 percent of underground stations are at risk of flooding, along with 14 percent of schools and 27 percent of police stations. The number of days per year when overheating could occur is projected to rise from 18 to between 22-51 days by the 2020s (central estimate is 33 days).


From 1972 to 2014, the annual mean temperature increased from 26.6°C to 27.7°C. The mean sea level in the Straits of Singapore also has increased at the rate of 1.2mm-to-1.7mm per year in the period 1975 to 2009. 

Rainfall has intensified in recent years. Singapore's Second National Climate Change Study found a general uptrend in annual average rainfall from 2192mm in 1980 to 2727mm in 2014.

Washington, DC

In 2012, damages from Hurricane Sandy required over $3 million in FEMA public assistance grants to rebuild and recover in the District of Columbia. The previous year, D.C. suffered damages from Hurricane Irene that required over $2.4 million in FEMA public assistance grants to rebuild and recover.

From Abu Dabhi to Washington, cities have shown a sincere desire to address climate change by mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.  That’s more important than ever, and it must be accompanied by a sincere desire to learn about and employ climate adaptation. Why? Because every $1 invested in adaptation avoids $4 in future losses.

Tubingen Mayor Palmer, as a member of the Germany Green Party (which puts climate change at the center of all policy considerations, including environmental policy and safety and social aspects), has the splendid chance to again demonstrate leadership by turning his refusal to embrace climate adaptation into an opportunity to embrace it and all collateral benefits for his constituents.  

Shifts in thinking in our unbalanced world

At the World Bank’s recent Financing Urban Resilience Workshop, I grasped three clear trends – indeed, shifts – occurring that are changing how adaptation leaders and others are managing an unbalanced world.  

(The workshop was led by Stephen Hammer, Lead Specialist, Cities and Climate Change, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice World Bank and attended by the Rockefeller Foundation, IFC, IDB, Munich Re, cities such as New Orleans, Mexico City, Acclimitise, Arup, AECOM etc.)


The detected changes:

  1. A shift within the traditional sustainability community from natural hazards to other types of shocks such as economic crises, health epidemics, etc. This reflects an overall shift to a more multidisciplinary approach, and it includes a switch from managing risks from specific disaster hazards to handling climate adaptation, which acknowledges the challenge of multiple hazards.


  1. A change from striving to put the world into balance (the aim of much sustainability work) to seeking to manage in an unbalanced world. Among other things, this allows for “safe failures” for affected systems while, at the same time, requiring redundancy, robustness and diversity may differ from what previously was believed to be needed.


  1. A shifting time horizon (the biggie for me) that requires grasping with uncertainties. Development presumes that the pace of change of natural systems remains relatively constant. For instance, the pace of climate change means we cannot rely simply on a natural system’s typical temporal resilience (evolution, migration or other change to accommodate shifts in ecosystems). We must be aware of thresholds, the most common of which is the rise in seas. This is illustrated graphically by Florida in the United States and by Bangladesh and other countries. (See a few trusted visualizations of sea level rise:


While I consider my work well underway on the first two identified shifts, I’m grappling with the temporal change. The radical actions this requires will take courage from many – starting with an acknowledgement that more coastal development puts more lives at risk, unnecessarily.

Cities in Emerging Markets as Investment Meccas

I enjoyed great conversations last week with delegates and speakers from around the world at the first Chicago Forum on Global Cities, held in partnership with the Financial Times, and I hope it becomes an annual event. I drew three key takeaways from the three-day event:


  1. Savvy investors again are snapping up opportunities in emerging markets again – including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Albright Capital Management LLC; the Abraaj Group (which just committed US $30 million to the Auvest MENASA Opportunities Fund I L.P.; and Athena Financial Services, a holding company that licenses promising technologies in emerging economies. (Session: The Foreign Policy of Cities.)


  1. Global Cities may be places of inequity.

American author Richard Longworth, whose new e-book “On Global Cities” was released as part of the forum, received the money question: Can you be a global city and possess junk bond status (such as Chicago). His response: an unequivocal yes. What happens, he explained, is that as taxes rise to take care of a city’s financial issues, prices rise as well. That makes such cities islands of the wealthy and the working class gets pushed to the hinterlands. The major question becomes: While equity is seen as the heart of the new urban agenda where sustainable development goals replace millennium development goals, will these investors help global cities share the fruits of globalization with all of its citizens through job growth? (Sessions: Defining the Global City, The Foreign Policy of Cities.)


  1. Big companies are bullish on cities and consider it their responsibility in part to create jobs there. In sessions “Global Cities Driving the Global Economy,” “Smart Cities: Data, Innovation, and Social Apps,” and “Emerging Economy Cities and Boom Towns,” such leaders as Siemens AG’s Pedro Miranda, the head of corporate development, noted that youth employment must be married with technology for global cities to thrive.


MasterCard President and CEO Ajay Banga provided the most tweeted statement: "A global city is a city where even the rich use public transit" (rather than "even the poor have a car.")


Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels, noted that tourism represents roughly 10 percent of global GDP and 275 million jobs, including many entry-level posts that do not require significant skills. He noted the importance of entry-level jobs in cities as rungs up the ladder and out of poverty.


As ND-GAIN grows from an exclusive country focus to embrace the global city, a clinching statement from Benjamin Barber, senior research scholar at The Graduate Center, proved especially noteworthy to me. He said, “Countries are monocultural and global cities are multicultural.” That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment that explains why cities are the first places where investors are looking for their next diamond find.


Advancing Climate Resilient Development

USAID and its Climate Change Resilient Development project hosted a symposium in mid-March on Advancing Climate Resilient Development at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The project, led by Engility/IRQ, was tagged as a project to watch in ND-GAIN’s 2014 Corporate Adaptation Prize competition. USAID ResilientUSAID ResilientThe Wednesday morning panel, Urban Day: Applying Technical Research and Tools in Developing Cities, focused on lessons learned from putting urban adaptation projects in place. A top-notch panel included John Furlow, USAID; Glen Anderson, Engility Corp.; Charles Cadwell, The Urban Institute; and Heather McGray, World Resources Institute (and lead rapporteur).


Heather issued a compelling report and to that, I offer this set of actions for all of us who consider ourselves climate-adaptation catalysts.


  1. We need to look before we leap, especially when it relates to pilot projects, where a healthy skepticism exists. We deserve to be impatient with small-scale action. The failure to glean lessons from pilots stands as a definite problem. Pilots should be chosen with comparability and scale-out in mind. One potential solution: Select an external group of leaders hold you accountable. In Chicago, we tapped a Green Ribbon Committee for our Chicago Climate Action Plan. At ND-GAIN, Kresge-ND-GAIN Advisors serves as our Urban Adaptation Assessment.
  2. We must integrate climate resilience into our work. A segregation/distinction between adaptation and development no longer exists. This is beneficial in a variety of ways, especially helping constituents recognize they already have built momentum and achieved success on adaptation (by reviewing their development work from the adaptation perspective.) But we should not assume all development professionals ask the climate adaptation question of their work, and we should continue to provide assets to help them to do so.
  3. We must emphasize that a good climate tool is one that is customized to the user and crafted from the user perspective. This holds true particularly with the climate scenarios and modeling. While data becomes more and more available, we also need data that is easy to access and interpret. We should invite our IT colleagues to help keep climate leaders on the cutting edge of data access.
  4. We must step up our collaboration with urban planners*, who climate change practitioners only recently have discovered. This is especially important since adaptation is a local issue. (As I have written about before, urban planners serve on the front lines of response, prevention and opportunity.)  Many urban planners reading this might contend they have been pragmatic climate-change practitioners for a long time, dealing with droughts, excessive precipitation, extreme heat, scarce natural resources, and the like.  
  5. We need to grasp that while the Private sector is an important driver of adaptation, it is markets – not plans – that drive what the private sector does.  We should make sure plans and markets follow the same direction. To do this, we must understand that market growth pertains to sustaining lives and supporting livelihoods. Generally, the corporate stakeholder is a sustainability stakeholder when helping to build markets. From that perspective, we review the work of corporate stakeholders, provide them with knowledge and collaborate with them in a way that furthers all of our goals.

*and here is a shameless plug for MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning!

UNISDR Launches RISE Initiative for Disaster Risk-Sensitive INVESTMENT

“Economic losses from disasters are out of control and can only be reduced in partnership with the private sector.” ̶ United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon


The United Nation’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, or UNISDR, and PwC, the global professional services network, launched their ambitious R!SE Initiative in the United States early this month in Boston, seeking to embed disaster risk management into investment decisions.

R!SE reflects a new way of collaborating on a global scale to unlock the potential for public and private sector entities to take leadership on disaster risk reduction. The one-day event on March 2 focused on whether cities should be transparent and share their resilience gaps. That’s also the key question for ND-GAIN as we embark on our Urban Adaptation Assessment with the Kresge Foundation.


The R!SE agenda at its launch encompassed a wide band of issues to define and discuss what R!SE seeks to do and why it matters:

  • A session defined the initiative, its different activity streams and projects already underway.
  • One explained why preparedness is important to the U.S. government and how the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new strategy supports this approach. (In short, the FEMA strategy involves an expeditionary organization that is survivor-centric and enables disaster risk reduction nationally.)
  • Another highlighted public-private partnerships that already promote resilience across the country. It examined the long-term governance structure needed to increase resilience across cities, states and the nation and the correct balance necessary to engage with the public and private sectors.
  • Afternoon breakout sessions explored two-to-three specific questions centering on how to leverage R!SE across the nation to enhance disaster-sensitive investments and to enhance society’s resilience.

Here are five key takeaways:

  1. Transparency is critical, but it’s not always easy from a political perspective to communicate gaps in resilience.
  2. Increasing trust throughout the communication process – by measuring such issues as economic impact that matter to citizens – proves necessary to demonstrate to citizens and communities that resilience investment will benefit them and help cities win battles over other priorities.
  3. A shift has occurred over the past few years toward increasing transparency, perhaps reflecting the rise in the number of activities to actually help increase resilience, not just assess it. The aim: Base every decision on an understanding of resilience.
  4. Since “city leader” isn’t synonymous with government, arming corporate and nonprofit leaders with information to help them develop capacity to increase resilience allows governments to be more transparent about gaps that exist with their constituents.
  5. A key asset of the R!SE Initiative is the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities, created by AECOM, the professional and technical services firm for infrastructure, and IBM for UNISDR. San Francisco has used the scorecard to inform capital asset decisions, which suggests that in the name of transparency, scorecard results should be made available to the public.


Oh, and given the similarities with R!SE, please watch this space as ND-GAIN transitions to a focus on urban adaptation issues in 2015.

Increasing Water Security: Enlivening Communities in Africa and Asia

More frequent and severe droughts triggered by climate change place significant stress on the regions of the globe already most arid. That’s why South Pole Carbon and HSBC India, in partnership with JBF, are working to empower and bring purified water to locals in Africa and Asia. These two unique projects were entered in our 2014 Corporate Adaptation Prize Contest. South Pole Carbon

South Pole Carbon’s International Water Purification Programme (IWPP) facilitates investments in clean drinking water to boost both climate-change mitigation and adaptation:

  1. South Pole Carbon provides poor families with a reliable source of clean drinking water, thus enabling individuals and communities to become more resilient against climate change.
  2. It reduces CO2 emissions by ensuring people don’t have to boil their drinking water.

South Pole offers companies the opportunity to invest in individual projects under the IWPP and to generate adaptation and mitigation benefits, measured in liters of clean drinking water provided and in tons of CO2 reduced, respectively. Under the IWPP, companies can achieve their Corporate Social Responsibility targets while gaining measurable benefits.

Here are the scores and trends of South Pole’s target countries, according to the 2012 ND-Global Adaptation Index:

  • Mexico: 59 (trend: stable)
  • Cambodia: 133 (trend: improving)
  • Uganda: 137 (trend: stable)
  • Malawi: 136 (trend: improving)
  • Tanzania: 140 (trend: improving)
  • Kenya: 153 (trend: stable)

South Pole Carbon Water

Source: South Pole Carbon 

HSBC India & the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation

In conjunction with Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF) in India, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Corporation (HSBC) builds community leadership and leverages innovations to contribute to climate-change adaptation success through potable water harvesting projects in India. As a global commercial bank, HSBC has executed three community-based adaptation projects in Rajasthan’s Marwar region—the world’s most densely populated arid zone. JBF is a nongovernment organization that has been working in the Marwar region of the Thar Desert in Western India since 2002.

Since 2009, the partnership has built on traditional local knowledge and contemporary social and technical innovations to develop, test and replicate adaptive strategies through management of natural resources, especially water.

HSBC India

Source: HSBC India

India ranked 120th on the 2012 ND-Global Adaptation Index with a score of 53.4. Its high vulnerability score and low readiness score makes it the 55th most vulnerable country and the 60th least-ready country. Its advancement by 10 points on the relative ranking since 1999 indicates the impact that corporate investment can make on resilience.

HSBC and JBF seek to improve the adaptive capacity and resilience of local communities:

  1. Available potable water year round through localized water harvesting and landscape management enlivens communities.
  2. Women who earlier fetched water from long distances in extreme desert conditions are saved from the physical stress, and they can use the saved time and energy for children’s education and development and economic activities that increase family income.
  3. Accessible toilets and safe sanitation facilities prevent fecal contamination of scarce water and improve public health, hygiene and environmental conditions.

Key variables are being tracked, including the increased availability of drinking water, the extent of sanitation and the impact on women’s time. On average, each village achieves a 30 percent improvement in water availability annually, translating into an additional 4-to-5 months of water availability per year. The extent of sanitation has increased to 50-to-70 percent from 6-to-25 percent since 2009. This adds 2-to-3 hours of productive activities for the average woman.

Consequently, HSBC and JBF generate an array of benefits to its communities in India:

  1. Health improvement through access to safe water and sanitation
  2. Women empowerment
  3. Education and child development
  4. Livelihood security
  5. Environmental sustainability

Because the integrated village-models are replicable and scalable in line with India’s national water policy framework, HSBC plans to expand its project in the Marwar region to other water-stressed regions in India, through collaboration among its NGO partners.

Visit the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation website for more of the partnership’s projects in India.

This information was compiled with the help of Sophia Chau, Intern, ND-Global Adaptation Index.

Adaptation Potential: Africa's Hope and Promise

Adaptation Potential: Africa’s Hope and Promise Hope for building communities resilient to climate change around the world emerges from the unlikeliest of places—Africa. Shortly after release of the ND-GAIN 2014 Index, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT, Calestous Juma, maintained that rankings alone fail to account for novel technological opportunities that communities not yet locked into conventional frameworks may readily adopt.

Focusing only on the rankings, Juma added in a CNN opinion editorial, risks sowing “despair among the poor and complacency among the rich.” He believes that developing countries have much cause for hope and that we must not ignore a poor nation’s creativity in the fight against climate change.

As evidence of Africa’s potential for generating responses to issues unique in our time, Juma cited the successful Sahalian drought response borne out of local collaboration as well as the mobile money-transfer initiative in Kenya. Most striking is the work of women engineers in controlling traffic through the use of robot technology in the CRD, a country ranked 5th from rock bottom of 178 countries on the ND-GAIN Index.

This hope and promise are reflected in ND-GAIN’s Readiness Matrix. Nestled in Africa are many of the world’s most vulnerable and least-prepared countries, but they each have made substantial progress in readiness to accept adaptation investment. These countries include Guinea, Laos, Liberia, Sao Tome & Principe, Zimbabwe and, most remarkably, Rwanda, which --has progressed entirely out of the red zone. The message is clear: the time is ripe for adaptation investment. In the coming years, African countries likely will emerge as leaders in the climate adaptation scene as investment continues to grow.


In particular, alternative energy holds much promise in Africa. Although many parts of the continent receive abundant insolation – the amount of solar radiation energy received on a given surface area during a given time – and constant winds, alternative energy investment and development still are in their infancy. Limited information access and poor local training further hinder technological leaps, contends Juma.

MozambiqueThe team in Mozambique.

Collaborations between foreign and local agencies can bridge this gap. For instance, ND-GAIN, the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) and the Universidade Católica de Moçambique (UCM) teamed up to assess the impacts of early-warning systems for climate-related disasters in Mozambique. They evaluated the impacts of Community-based Disaster Management Committees (CLGRCs) and early-warning systems to show what and how interventions lead to increased climate resilience.

Moving forward, it is crucial that we understand the extent of Africa’s adaptation potential and also facilitate its adaptation efforts.  Africa likely will hold solutions to the 21st century’s most pressing problems.

Blog compiled with help from Sophia Chau, Intern, ND-GAIN 

Urban Adaptation Questions To Explore, with thanks to Joann Carmin

Attending the Carmin Symposium on Urban Climate Adaptation last month, I had the pleasure of being reminded over and over again why experts the world over looked to Dr. Carmin for insights and guidance to galvanize urban adaptation. Carmin

Here are five questions her closest collaborators elucidated for us, some of which ND-GAIN will be exploring via our Kresge Foundation-funded urban adaptation assessment project.  Which of these questions are you finding answers to? :

What internal and external factor shape the ways in which poor and marginalized urban residents can participate meaningfully in planning and action for urban resilience?

What are the characteristics of urban agents, systems, and institutions that make them more resilient in the face of climate change?

In what ways can local governments influence national legislative and policy frameworks to create an enabling environment for urban adaptation?

How can cities engage in a meaningful way in global policy to shape the conditions in which they will need to respond for climate change?

Innovation ->  implementation -> institutionalization

Reflecting Post Sandy

Two years have now passed since Superstorm Sandy crashed into the northeast of the United States, showing Americans the need for climate action. Sandy remains one of the most expensive extreme weather events in history, costing corporations and governments over  $40B. And this year, a drought bit deep across the largest drought-declared area ever in Queensland, Australia. But extreme weather events like bigger, more destructive hurricanes; hotter, longer droughts; record-breaking wildfires and “biblical floods” are not just the domain of two of the richest countries in the world.

Last year at this time, we were, mourning the loss of over 6000 lives from Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.  That tragedy cost $13 billion in economic fall-out.  In 2011, an unprecedented flood in Southern Thailand caused over $150 billion in damage.

In fact, ND-GAIN scientists have calculated that people living in least developed countries have 10 times more chance of being affected by a climate disaster than those in wealthy countries EACH YEAR; And the IPCC report released last week shows we are heading in the wrong direction.  That is a catalyst for all of us – hundreds or thousands of lives are at risk.  We must adapt.

Over the course of the last several years, the world’s awareness for the need to adapt has grown.

How do we respond, informing investments and policies that save lives and improve livelihoods in the face of global shifts?

Our meeting on November 5th served as an ideal platform for participants to deliberate development and business risks and opportunities as we explored successful adaptation efforts, predictions of future challenges and developments in adaptation measurement while learning first hand of trends evident from the ND-GAIN Country Index 2014.  Thirty speakers from all sectors shared their insights, and we released our Country Index to enhance the world’s understanding of the importance of adaptation and inform public and private investments in vulnerable communities.


Have a look at the recap video, watch footage of the meeting panelists, check out the TV, podcast and written press on the meeting and release, and let us know what you think.


Another Season of Climate Risk Looms: Southeast Asian Coastal Storms

As the global hurricane and typhoon season begins, a critically important gathering of the World Economic Forum on East Africa has just concluded in Manila, with nearly every session expounding on the tragic consequences and lessons learned from last year's Typhoon Haiyan.

Decision makers from the private, financial, and public and development communities committed to instilling more resilient measures in responding to and handling disasters. They expect to shape regional and industry agendas by addressing Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, opportunities for mitigating resource risks and vulnerabilities tied to climate change.

Among other issues, participants found common ground on such areas as climate smart growth, decision-making in a disruptive world, green and climate-resilient investments that encompass public-private resiliency funds for disaster-prone areas, solutions for climate and resource risks and enhancements of risk awareness and management.

In deliberating, participants considered some of the learnings from Hurricane Katrina, the devastating disaster that struck the Gulf region of the United States nine years ago this August. Its impact on the southeast region persists.

For one specific company, New Orleans' electric utility Entergy Corp., the hurricane caused an estimated $750 million and $1.1 billion in damages, according to an Entergy U.S. Senate testimony. It also galvanized the integrated energy company to transform itself into a true climate-resiliency leader.

Fortunately, the utility possessed a well-rehearsed emergency-response plan that included safety performance drills, a disaster-recovery plan, communications continuity using satellite phones during repairs, and swift internal infrastructure restoration. A learning organization, Entergy adopted lessons from Katrina and responded proactively to Hurricane Rita the very next month. It shut down various operations and reduced staff to keep more employees out of harm's way.

Entergy, of course, serves the Gulf region and can't just get up and move. Since Katrina and Rita, it has invested in wetlands restoration and other community assets to shore up resiliency. As for community resiliency, Entergy ensures a consistent supply of power.

An Example for Others

Entergy's story offers a great example to companies worldwide at risk from coastal storms. What does that risk look like?

In its latest stark report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes significant and worsening environmental risks to the world's poorer countries. And with rising seas, increasing storm intensity and population shifts to cities at the shore, the future promises to be truly tough for millions upon millions of people worldwide.

By increasing risks to human health, welfare, and ecosystems, climate impacts can threaten primary development goals -- reducing poverty, increasing access to education, improving child health, combating disease and managing natural resources sustainably.

The coastal areas, of course, are on the front lines. As tropical cyclone season arrives (and keeps us riveted to the news, worried about frequent tragedies) and continues through November, one startling fact relays their impact. Since 2005, in Southeast Asia alone, more than 172,500 people have lost their lives to tropical cyclones, and economic losses from them exceed more than $122 billion (in 2014 dollars), according to data from Aon Benfield Impact Forecasting.

Southeast Asia at Particular Risk

Of course, the ASEAN region is at particular risk since a disproportionate percentage of the population lives within five meters of sea level, according to the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, or CIESIN. With the exception of Laos, ASEAN countries possess more coastal area -- the percent of land less than 10 meters above sea level -- than 80 percent of the rest of the world's countries. And, again with the exception of Laos, ASEAN countries have more coastal population than 85 percent of the rest of the world.

November's deadly typhoon that leveled Tacloban, the Philippines, is likely to be repeated as coastal storms grow in populated areas in these low-lying coastal zones. Some ASEAN countries are less vulnerable and more prepared than others to adapt to these changes.

ND-GAIN, the world's leading index of country-level climate adaptation, ranks nine of the 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei Darsulum doesn't share enough data to be included in the Index.) From Singapore, at 30th on the Index to Myanmar at 163rd, major variations exist in both vulnerability and readiness to adapt throughout the region. The ND-GAIN data indicates that all of the countries are trending up or are stable. Each could set clear priorities for improvement, including:

1. Improving the quality of trade and transport infrastructure.* 2. Establishing good early-warning systems. 3. Adopting building codes that reflect tropical cyclone threats. 4. Implementing insurance mechanism and financing facilities that recognize these threats. 5. Protecting natural capital such as wetlands along the Gulf Coast, sand dunes around New York City and coastal mangrove swamps in Thailand to cushion coasts from storm surges. 6. Increasing the percentage of paved roads. 7. Establishing redundancies in communication infrastructure. 8. Engaging with stakeholders from other sectors and determining who is active in protecting people, natural resources and infrastructure? Being proactive in seeking allies with similar assets at stake who also want to assist, and offering to engage with them.

This year, nature will make its increasingly destructive annual pass around the globe with its litany of tragic tropical cyclones, monsoons, forest fires and the like. However, each offers valuable lessons that we must recognize and learn from -- for our sake and that of future generations. A great deal is at stake.

Some cities and countries will face economic decline as corporations and others shift their valuable supply chains away from weather-threatened regions. Very simply, climate change rates among the key challenges that developing countries must recognize and respond to in planning for their futures.

*Note: According to the Trade and Transport Infrastructure: Logistics professionals' perception of country's quality of trade- and transport-related infrastructure (e.g., ports, railroads, roads, information technology), from the World Bank's World Development Indicators.

(This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post: