United Nations Environment Programme

Bouncing back

Breaking the mould with new partnerships and financing to build urban resilience
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Once a city has developed a collaborative resilience strategy, the 100 Resilient Cities Platform provides cities with innovative goods, services, technical expertise, and technologies to implement it.

In these rapidly changing times, as the effects of climate change and population growth challenge urban areas, we need a new paradigm for cities. They must be resilient to adapt and thrive.

Building resilience is about managing the avoidable and avoiding the unmanageable, making people, communities, and systems better prepared to withstand catastrophic events - both natural and manmade - and better able to bounce back quickly and emerge stronger from shocks and stresses. A dollar spent on prevention saves four dollars spent on recovery. But building resilience at scale requires breaking out of siloed approaches. The best solutions require deep integration and the coordination of actors working together, each applying its specific skills, talents, and advantages.

100 Resilient Cities (100RC) was pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation to help cities become more resilient to social, physical, and economic challenges, show how cross-sectoral partnerships can unlock new opportunities, spur innovation, and drive broader change. Medellin – whose mayor tells its remarkable story elsewhere in this magazine – is one of them. A central component of what 100RC offers member cities is creating (and funding) a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), who reports directly to, or works closely with, the city’s chief executive, and acts as its point person for resilience building, helping to coordinate all its efforts. 100RC works with CROs to develop a resilience strategy, which must include the engagement and participation of all sectors – government agencies, business, academia, and civil society. Dakar’s CRO, for example, has engaged a diversity of actors including local entrepreneurs, artisans, and the municipality to encourage producing and consuming quality local goods made from recycled materials through the resilience strategy's #MadeInDakar initiative which is poised to address the city’s waste management challenges while creating income-generating opportunities for artisans.

Once a city has developed a collaborative resilience strategy, the 100 Resilient Cities Platform provides cities with innovative goods, services, technical expertise, and technologies to implement it. 100RC has about 70 partners on board, again from multiple sectors, and the number is growing. For example, the geospatial and positioning software company Trimble together with satellite imagery provider Digital Globe are analyzing Boulder's tree canopy to assess where it is damaged and where it can be strengthened. And RMS, a catastrophe risk management firm, is helping to spotlight sea-level rise and build solutions in California's Bay Area.

These platform partners offer their services to 100RC cities pro bono. This is great for the cities but we know and welcome the business purpose behind the platform partners’ engagement – the awareness that urban resilience is a growing and necessary market, creating new business partnerships. Veolia and Swiss Re – both 100RC platform partners – have launched a cutting edge, pre-funded partnership that will help ensure the quick recovery of critical infrastructure after disastrous events. This responds to the reality that cities rarely have financial plans in place to protect critical assets against shocks before they occur – while, in their aftermath, cities must determine what is damaged, how it will be fixed, who can fix it and how to fund repairs, which can take months or years. The partnership will improve and streamline existing processes and works with cities to plan for major shocks and stresses. Thus cities strengthen the resilience of their vital infrastructure, limit economic interruption and begin quickly to repair damage without waiting for insurance assessments and solicitations. Everyone wins: city government, business and city residents.

Building urban resilience will require investing billions over the next few years. The Rockefeller Foundation is focusing on identifying innovative financing mechanisms for unleashing new sources of capital, funding almost two dozen large-scale pilot projects as part of our Zero Gap initiative.

The Forest Resilience Impact Bond, for example, presents a financial solution to the forest fires and drought that threaten Los Angeles and other cities in the Western United States, where it costs up to 40 times more to put out a fire than prevent it. The bond raises capital from private investors to fund NGOs with proven strategies to prevent or decrease future wildfires and increase water availability for local utilities. The savings provide water and electric utilities with the funds to repay the bondholders. This type of financing tool can provide a solution to cities worldwide: drought and high temperatures have recently led to devastating wildfires around Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, for example.
Fiscal benefits come not just in novel ways to access more infrastructure financing. Cities can realize savings in borrowing costs by showing that they have a clear resilience strategy and approach. Norfolk, Virginia maintained its credit rating from Moody’s despite significant increases in water and flooding risk thanks to its resilience work with The Rockefeller Foundation.

Cities should look at how such investments can lead to immediate and ongoing benefits, as well as longer-term protection, through what we call ‘the resilience dividend.’ A comprehensive ‘Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge’ water management strategy for the New Jersey town of Hoboken features a layered infrastructure design that will provide new underground parking, green space, and storm water flood prevention. Those three wins with one investment will improve the city’s capacity to deal with flood risk while giving the local community parks and economic development.

Over the last ten years, The Rockefeller Foundation has invested more than a half-billion dollars in resilience-building, while leveraging $25 billion in known investments and commitments for building resilience from government, the private sector, and NGOs. In times of more limited resources, cities must obtain increased leverage for their investments and be prepared to explore new partnerships and innovative financing approaches. For those ready to engage, there are compelling models of success, and many willing collaborators.