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How Can Cities Fund Themselves for Adaptation to Climate Change?

SuratDespite a growing acknowledgment for need for cities to adapt changes presented by climate change, the question of adaptation finance remains uncertain. Often unable to access global climate funds, cities must seek out alternative sources to support their adaptations to climate change.

In her thesis, Toral Patel (MCP ’14) examines the particularly challenging environment for local governments in India, where incomplete fiscal decentralization resulted in developmental deficits and resource constraints. Using Surat, Gujarat, as a case study, her research examines how cities in India might fund climate adaptation despite limited fiscal and administrative autonomy. It furthermore explores how the urban finance system might affect the implementation of climate adaptation strategies at the city level.

The study of Surat suggests that cities can effectively marshal funds from international, national and state sources to invest in climate adaptation. However, relying on external sources for funding has required trade-offs between policy agendas, resulting in a fluid understanding of “climate adaptation” on the ground. While the urban finance system appears to have encouraged experimentation in Surat, it may constrain the effectiveness of climate adaptation at the city level.

In addition, limited fiscal autonomy has hindered access to alternative sources to finance, such as public-private partnerships and municipal bonds. Combined, these factors have contributed to a project-based approach that may compromise longer-range and comprehensive adaptation plans.

To further cities ability to adapt to climate change, Toral identifies experimentation and innovation in financing climate adaptation as the crucial elements. Read more about Toral’s work in her thesis.

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Building Stability Through Decentralization

Kathmandu-MüllabfuhrAs India continues to industrialize and urbanize, levels of consumption and waste continue to grow, placing stress on waste management systems.

Traditionally, Indian cities relied upon a combination of a formal municipal collection and processing; informal recycling, collection and processing; and waste pickers. However, urban sprawl and a lack of sites for new landfills have outpaced the capacity of traditional systems. The response has been to turn to private enterprise to manage waste, but this approach comes with severe draw backs in terms of social and environmental justice.

India’s waste pickers are vulnerable to changes in solid waste management policies. A shift towards more formal privatized systems, leaves little room for this large labor force.  Privatized waste management also hinges on maximizing profits at scale, thus leading to greater reliance on landfills. This disproportionately effects the most vulnerable groups in cities, since they do not have the political power to resist the siting of new landfills.

In her 2014 thesis, Caroline Howe argues for Indian cities to build the capacity of the informal waste management sector and to invest in decentralized waste processing. By investing in these ways, Caroline finds, Indian cities would develop a more sociall- just, economical, and environmentally friendly waste management system. In addition, by protecting a large population of workers in India, cities would be more resilient to economic and social challenges.

Read more about the potentials of decentralization in Caroline’s thesis.