Cities house more than half the world's population, and by 2050, nearly 70% of the Earth’s inhabitants will live in cities. With the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, cities are asking: how can they build and finance resilient infrastructure to protect urban inhabitants?
Following the United Nations Climate Action Summit last week, CDP led a discussion with U.S. investors and city leaders on this topic. Alongside a screening of “Sustainable Cities: Building a Greener Memphis,” we explored how cities along the Mississippi River are tackling the risks and opportunities posed by climate change. The event underpinned the efforts of CDP Matchmaker, which showcases cities’ climate resilient infrastructure projects to the financial community.
The Mississippi River delta experienced record-setting flooding this year when the river remained above flood stage for over 200 consecutive days. More than 40% of the commodities in the global supply chain move on the Mississippi and 80% of the world’s grain production happens in the basin. To understand how the world’s cities are experiencing climate change, you have to first understand what is happening along the Mississippi River.
Facing climate challenges
“The most evident impacts are river flooding and extreme heat,” said John Zeanah, Director of Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development. “Back in 2011, we experienced 15 inches of rain in the course of two days. It’s estimated that our region will experience seven times as many days with temperatures over 95 degrees F by midcentury. We feel like we’re already there.”
Through CDP partners like the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, local governments along the river are working with other municipalities facing the same challenges to invest in projects that can build resiliency. “We’re all in the same ecosystem and need to work together across jurisdictional boundaries for common solutions,” said John Zeanah.
Just 200 miles upstream from Memphis is the City of Bettendorf, a city of 32,000 and one of the Quad Cities that share the banks of the Mississippi River. Mayor Robert Gallagher of Bettendorf, Iowa, who joined for the discussion, said, “Cities up and down the Mississippi corridor are looking for ways to invest in resiliency. We’re in the process of determining the key spots where we can avoid more of the flooding that we’ve experienced. Green infrastructure and sustainability are things Mississippi River mayors tackle together.”
Identifying equitable solutions
As city leaders tackle climate change, they are accountable to take action in a socially equitable way. Environmental injustices, including the proliferation of climate change, have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income communities in the United States and around the world.
“Healthy communities integrate all people into the community,” Mayor Gallagher said. “Forward cities developed the concept of the Big Table. The moniker came from Columbus, Ohio, where they were dealing with the university expanding into new neighborhoods and displacing people of color and people of limited economic means. We’ve brought that concept to the Quad Cities. We see the risk of physical displacement and want to think about a whole and inclusive community. Expanding green infrastructure is an opportunity to bring people to the table.”
Inclusive green infrastructure is critical to creating equitable and resilient communities, and cities often require support to implement this infrastructure at scale. CDP is proud to announce that the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo’s Resilient Communities Program is supporting CDP for a second year to build cities’ capacity and communicate socially equitable green infrastructure projects to the capital markets.
Good news for cities: the demand from investors for opportunities to invest in resilient infrastructure is high, with investors worldwide competing for shares of the US$3.8 trillion municipal bond market. U.S. projects are particularly exciting due to the comparatively high yields. Global funds dedicated specifically to impact investing now surpass US$500 billion.
“By partnering with CDP and exploring opportunities to work with private markets, there are lots of investment vehicles cities can take advantage of. Cities do have a lot of limitations, but it’s good to see that the investment side understands and that they’re looking for ways to help cities find the dollars necessary for these projects,” John Zeanah said.
“The global perspective for the Mississippi River is finding solutions corridor-wide. We have pilot projects from Dubuque, Iowa to St. Paul, Minnesota. We’ve seen what works. Even though this year was our worst flood, certain areas didn’t flood as badly as they did in ’93. That means green infrastructure is working.”
As CDP’s Matchmaker community grows, we look forward to working with cities across the globe to bring urgently needed funding to municipalities large and small.