Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

Urban Resilience Infrastructure: an Imperative in a Climate Uncertain World

Stefanie Fairholme — Former Director of Power & Climate Investments
Photo by Milo Miloezger on Unsplash

Regardless of climate, infrastructure is a basic need for human survival.  By definition, infrastructure is the “basic physical and organizational structure needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.”  Infrastructure is intended to provide communities with shelter, and serve as an engine to support continued economic growth.  But the world’s infrastructure is broken.  Despite $2.5 trillion of annual global spending on transport, power, water and telecom systems, our global infrastructure is currently inadequate to meet demand, susceptible to failure both in daily life and under hazard events, and highly inequitable in particular to poor or vulnerable communities.

Infrastructure needs are most acute in cities, where the population grows rapidly, development increasingly encroaches on the natural habitat needed to support life and livelihoods, CO2 emissions are rising and air quality standards are declining.  All of this impacts the most vulnerable communities.  It is estimated that $3.3 trillion of annual investment and multiple decades are needed to deliver the infrastructure to address basic human needs.  In its recent report, the Global Commission on Adaptation highlighted that climate-resilient infrastructure systems are one of the top six areas of investment required to adapt to a climate-uncertain future.

Delivering the ‘right’ kind of urban infrastructure requires an understanding of what cities need today and anticipating what they might need in the future. Infrastructure projects must maximize both their mitigation and adaptation potential, combining hard infrastructure and nature-based solutions, and addressing physical constraints as well and community needs. This will lead to infrastructure that is built to improve daily life, ensure survival and support continued growth in the face of increasingly hazardous climate events.  We call this: resilience infrastructure.

Delivering the ‘right’ kind of urban infrastructure requires an understanding of what cities need today and anticipating what they might need in the future.

In order to take action in delivering resilience infrastructure, The Rockefeller Foundation is taking two steps.  First, we are partnering with Meridiam, a specialized infrastructure investment fund manager, in a new approach to develop urban resilience infrastructure. The goal of this partnership is to create an industry standard for resilience infrastructure. This will include mitigating the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) risks of a project, meeting indicators from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, and ensuring that projects are tailored to resolve resilience challenges in individual communities.

As part of this effort, we are also developing an Urban Resilience Screen, to help investors evaluate the resilience of an infrastructure project, consisting of its ability to withstand sudden shocks and prolonged stresses, minimize negative impacts on the environment and society, as well as contribute positively to health, job creation, and community cohesion. The wide adoption of this methodology will enable investment to contribute to the urban environment in a systemic way that maximizes climate resilience and positive social co-benefits.

  1. While we believe that these endeavors will yield success, there are other roles that philanthropy can play in supporting resilient infrastructure systems, currently in nascent stages. We need to fix the project development cycle, so that project ideas efficiently find funding, and come to fruition. Currently, lacking resources prevent projects from progressing from early-stage ideation, through the necessary technical analysis, to financial closing and implementation. Philanthropic capital and innovation can help overcome this market failure.
  2. We need to take the financial risk that the private sector won’t, specifically in supporting natural solutions, as well as innovations in new technologies and materials science. For example, philanthropic capital can play a catalytic role in developing tools to appropriately value natural assets and advocate for their widespread adoption by governments and financial institutions, in order to draw more public and private investment towards them.
  3. We need to help the investment community understand the intrinsic and acquired value associated with resilience infrastructure investments. In doing so, we can also use our patient capital to catalyze investment from a variety of institutions who are currently waiting on the sidelines. If you measure it, you can finance it.
  4. We need to support the advancement and ambition of data science-informed decisions in developing resilience infrastructure, learning from platforms like Datakind, a global non-profit and data science platform, funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, that connects data science talent with social enterprises and organisations to harness the power of data and AI for the good of humanity. Data science can help optimize for outcomes outside of financial returns and find new solutions that both meet the changing needs of cities while being cost-effective.

Putting our cities on the path to a climate-resilient, equitable and inclusive future demands swift action from our world’s leaders gathered here, in New York this week. Among them, philanthropists have an important role to play in leading the effort and galvanizing these stakeholders to ensure that infrastructure projects are built to improve humanity throughout all cities and the world.

Leave a comment