Unlocking finance for climate change adaptation is key to building resilient African cities

Cities in Africa are some of the most vulnerable to climate change in the world, and for them to become more resilient, a significant amount of funding is required to enable climate change adaptation. However, Africa as a region has received the least climate change finance to date. In 2016 as little as 4.1% (USD 19 billion) of global climate finance flowed to Africa. Of the funds that are directed to African countries, very little flows to the city-level, where climate change impacts are felt most keenly, and most is allocated to climate change mitigation, not adaptation, despite adaptation being a major priority in Africa.

The second edition of our webinar series, presented by ICLEI Africa in partnership with the Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa (CoM SSA), focused on the barriers that African cities face in unlocking finance for climate change adaptation. It also looked at innovative ways to enhance the flow of climate adaptation finance to African cities.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, resilience is key to municipalities recovering from global crises. The webinar Adaptation finance: A core component of post-COVID-19 economic recovery explored how African cities could ‘build back better’.

The webinar boasted a high-level panel of city leaders and climate finance experts: Hon. Mayor Manuel Araújo of the City of Quelimane (Mozambique), and Hon. Mayor Mohamed Sefiani of Chefchaouen Municipality (Morocco)effectively representing the south-eastern and north-western corners of the African continent, discussed their cities’ climate adaptation projects and challenges. Carla Rooseboom (Director, GFA Climate & Infrastructure), and David Jackson (Director, Local Development Finance Practice, UN Capital Development Fund and co-chair of the LoCAL Board) offered perspectives on climate finance opportunities for African cities.

While the current pandemic is wreaking havoc on economies and placing strain on cities’ infrastructures, it also offers the opportunity to re-think development plans that build resilience and incorporate climate change adaptation. For Mayor Araújo, the crisis is two-fold: the city of Quelimane is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, specifically flooding and erosion, and although the city has been proactive and launched many climate change adaptation projects, there is limited budget available. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the limited climate adaptation budget being reallocated to other sectors deemed to be in more urgent need of it.  

Access to resources is a further challenge: “as people are moving from rural areas to coastal regions and the capital of Maputo, quality and availability of human resources is a major challenge to accessing climate finance,” said Mayor Araújo.

Due to the city’s geographical position, where the Rio de Bons Sinais flows into the Indian Ocean, it is subject to severe floods every year. Mayor Aurajó hopes to drive an adaptation project that would involve building an artificial lake so that rainfall can be captured and used where and when needed.

Alongside UN Habitat, the city has also launched an awareness campaign, teaching locals the importance of the mangroves as an eco-system and a buffer to floods. In addition, disaster management clubs and training for women and children have been set up.

But the challenges persist and not all of their projects have come to fruition.

Mayor Mohamed Sefiani of Chefchaouen shared the concern that there was a gap between good ideas and concrete results, and that much of this is due to access. He highlighted that local governments are physically limited in their capability to access climate finance due to the inherent structure of these mechanisms. “Among the most dynamic and resourceful cities in Africa, not a single city had access to Green Climate Fund. We need good, air-tight projects to present to finance institutions.” He added that local governments cannot achieve this alone, which is where city networks play an important role.

Carla Rooseboom, a financial analysis expert with key insights into unlocking climate finance on a municipal scale, was involved in CoM SSA’s upcoming study, Finance roadmaps for climate projects. She envisaged a way to bridge the gap between financiers and local governments: “One solution to make climate finance applications easier is to establish a centre of excellence in Sub-Saharan Africa that has the capacity in developing funding proposals and could help cities navigate a complex space.” Such a mechanism, she argued, would simplify application processes: “There is a real need for an entity to sit between current funders and local government to translate what needs to be done and that has the capacity to support the local governments to implement and apply for funding.”

David Jackson noted that cities are struggling to access the Green Climate Fund, as it does not accredit subnational entities. The UNCDF’s Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL) is a mechanism that can bridge that gap: “LoCAL supports direct access to the Green Climate Fund for national government entities that channel funding directly to local government. Fifteen countries have joined and there are seven candidate countries to date.”  

Jackson also highlighted that climate finance generally sits with national government, and in order to unlock it at the city level, multi-level government integration is needed. He believes that “local governments need to be put around the table and engage with chambers of commerce, using their convening power”. He used the city of Kumasi in Ghana as an example of how climate finance can be administered on a multi-government scale. He explained that “the Ministry of Finance agreed to Kumasi’s climate adaptation programme as the government understood adaptation finance for such a key city was in the national interest. It’s a mind-shift that national government needs to make to set their cities free. These are the conversations that we [at LoCAL] are having with central government. We have to change the dialogue to get their ear”.

Leading the conversation, Dr Meggan Spires, Senior Manager for Climate Change, Energy & Resilience at ICLEI Africa, created an effective platform for the cities to express their challenges and for the finance experts to provide potential solutions. Reflecting on the outcomes of the webinar, Dr Spires commented: “I was struck by the rich discussion held today. Both Mayors described the daily realities their cities face and the pressure they feel to provide tangible solutions to their citizens, many of which are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This was complemented by the technical experts’ input. Both gave deep experiential insights into how some of the seemingly insurmountable barriers to unlocking finance for climate change adaptation can be overcome. Our hope, at ICLEI Africa and CoM SSA, is that these conversations will continue, and that they will lead to the on-the-ground solutions that African citizens are so desperate for.”

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