Plenary: Financing Urban Sustainability

After three days of discussions and workshops on sustainable urban solutions, delegates turned to the issue of financing urban sustainability at plenary 5 on Day 4 of the ICLEI World Congress 2015.

Based on the huge financial need — US$ 1.4 trillion alone for infrastructure in developing countries — official development assistance (ODA) and other traditional financing mechanisms will not be enough, said Mr. Sameh Wagba, Urban Practice Manager for Africa of The World Bank Group.

“Cities need to think outside the box. Decisions today shall lock us for the next 100 or 150 years – we have a narrow window for getting things right.”

Ms. Naoko Ishii, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), discussed the GEF Sustainable Cities Initiative as one of the international funding sources through which the financial gap may be closed. GEF is launching a US$100-million integrated program on sustainable cities that will engage with key partners to develop conceptual models in harmonized performance indicators, and, for the first time, capturing global environmental benefits.

The models will provide policy and governance support to facilitate integrated urban design, planning, and management that shall lead to sustainable, resilient development and sound ecosystem management.

For her part, Ms. Amy Leung, Deputy Director General of East Asia Operational Department, Asian Development Bank, suggests three ways for local governments to address financial constraints: improve credit-worthiness, develop bankable projects, and use counterparties. In financial terms, counterparties are institutions such as governments, national banks, or international monetary organizations that act as ultimate guarantor for loans and assume certain risks.

Noting that “there is massive outpacing of land consumption over population growth,” Mr. Wagba described ‘land value capture’ as a World Bank effort to assist cities in obtaining finance. “Urbanization increases land value; cities can use the profit to finance urbanization itself,” he said. Another WB effort is a municipal finance credit worthiness program, designed to assist local governments improve their governance structures and planning processes to be able to access loans.

Ultimately, Ms. Leung noted, the most crucial driving force for urban sustainability is not money, but visionary leadership. “City leaders should have a longer-term vision that goes beyond electoral terms. This vision must be shared by all stakeholders, such that present endeavors can be sustained by future leaders.”