Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Picture: REUTERS/NOOR KHAMIS
Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Picture: REUTERS/NOOR KHAMIS

In Africa, the population of about 1.1-billion will double by 2050, and more than 80% of that increase will occur in cities. Importantly, two-thirds of the urban infrastructure Africa will need in 2050 is yet to be built.

However, due to climate change, these urban communities will live in a world of even greater uncertainty and increased crisis unless we take action now. Africa is — and will continue to be – the continent experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change, despite sub-Saharan Africa being responsible for only 4% of the annual global greenhouse emissions that cause it.

As African cities recover, rebuild and redesign in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, our urban leaders have the unique opportunity to build more climate resilient, inclusive and liveable cities. African cities have the opportunity to harness innovation and nurture young leaders to develop context-relevant solutions to solve the complex challenges we face.

They can scale up renewable energy and energy efficient interventions by promoting community involvement and solutions that benefit citizens living in poverty and the most vulnerable. They can promote eco-mobility and use sustainable building materials while retrofitting existing infrastructure to reduce emissions.

They can plan for disasters proactively, look to nature-based solutions to enhance resilience, and view their city as a system where resource flows can be reshaped to become circular; promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns. Residents of such cities would have access to nutritious food, reliable and safe healthcare services and environments that enhance wellbeing and quality of life.

Yet, through our work with local and subnational governments over the past three decades, we’ve seen that cities have not been able to tap into all the opportunities to finance the projects and interventions that will help them reach this potential.

Finance for climate change and green recovery projects can come from a range of sources, including municipal budgets, national budgets, private sector financiers, foreign direct investment and development aid. In 2017 global climate finance flows reached a record high of $612bn.

Yet, as noted by the African Development Bank (AfDB), currently only 3% of global climate finance and investments flow into sub-Saharan Africa. Due to the established architecture of climate finance, these funds typically flow to national governments.

We have very limited data to indicate how much international climate finance actually reaches the local level where it’s needed most, and where the benefits result in transformative change for those experiencing climate change impacts firsthand. It is paramount that all levels of government work together in ways that are transparent and accountable so that finance can be used effectively to combat climate change.

According to the World Bank, only 4% of developing cities are creditworthy in international capital markets. This is one of the major challenges that prevents cities from being able to access financing from the private sector. The private sector holds significant capital to finance climate projects. Without national creditworthiness, however, most cities are not able to access all the finance needed to implement the scale of climate action required.

Cities therefore need to be supported by other levels of government to become more creditworthy. This is possible when cities have greater mandate for decision-making in the sectors that directly impact on urban development and their potential revenue flows. Cities would then have more control over their own budgets, long term financial sustainability, and the financial track-record to engage directly with private sector financiers.

Another major barrier to accessing climate finance is the lack of bankable projects and strong project preparation at the local level, without which we will not see the shifts in the flow of climate finance we need. Local governments need to be supported to demonstrate to the investor community that there is sufficient scale of investment and a robust and financially-attractive project pipeline for climate-resilient infrastructure at the city-scale.

ICLEI Africa’s 5th Local Climate Solutions for Africa (LoCS4Africa) virtual congress will tackle these issues head-on. Held online from 3 to 12 November, it will bring together local, regional and national governments, as well as the private sector, financiers, investors, utilities, community-based organisations and researchers to enhance the flow of climate finance to African cities. It will do so within the context of the Covid pandemic, acknowledging the paramount importance of addressing gender equality, deep societal inequalities, fragile infrastructure, and unsustainable consumption and production patterns.

• Brand is deputy secretary-general of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and regional director of ICLEI Africa.

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