No money for adaptation?

How often have I heard the message from cities and other stakeholders “We would like to act, but we do not have the financial resources to do climate change adaptation action”? I cannot count it, but it pops up again and again.


Do you really need money to start action?


What would you do with a bunch of money suddenly dropping on your table? Would you know, where and how to invest that best? Do citizens, politicians and other stakeholder go along with your ideas? ...

First find out what is really needed in your city

And, do you actually know the huge variety of different adaptation options? They can range from grey (technical), green (nature-based) and soft(regulatory and behaviour) measures and range from high to low costs. You could, e.g., combat excess rain water with the extension of the sewage system or you could free areas from asphalt and create green areas that can drain storm water or you have emergency plans in place. All that can work effectively, but you need to know, what works best in your city before you start investing into something.

And yes, it is also about money!  I have learned from many examples across Europe, that there is rarely just one source of financing that does the job, rather combining different sources of public and private money. And actually, there are many opportunities:

Usually, we think of funds, grants or loans. There are plenty. Some sources, like the European Environment Agency, Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy or, recently, the Committee of the Regions have listed the European sources. 


Financing urban adaptation to climate change (EEA)

Financing opportunities far local climate and energy action (Covenant)

Financing climate action (CoR)


Screen yourself! It may be that you get across some funding sources you have never thought of, because they are outside your typical working area! For example, I have often experienced that colleagues working with nature and adaptation are mostly aware of the EU LIFE programme (managed by DG Environment), but are often much less familiar with the INTERREG programme or URBACT (managed by DG Regional Policy and Urban Action). However, all can be equally relevant, because adaptation is a cross-cutting issue!

Hence, a clever way to finance adaptation is to mainstream it into other domains. You can sell it under the label of urban regeneration, urban green, health measures, water management and so on. You would just need a strategy that defines what you need for adaptation. Then, mainstream it targeted into relevant other working area. Malmö, for example, directly integrated adaptation measures into building and urban design in its urban in new area development, like Western Harbour. It comes in forms of better insulation, green and blue areas and green roofs. Adaptation here is not an add-on but an integrated part.


Can you go beyond grants, loans and mainstreaming?

Yes, some cities have been quite creative to find resources:


Copenhagen, in the aftermath of its extreme flooding event in 2011, has developed a comprehensive adaptation plan with more than 300 interconnected measures. As most of the measures are water related, the city has teamed up with the water utility company and redesigned the water charges so that the financing is generated for a major part of these measures.

Bologna developed GAIA – Green Areas Inner-city Agreement. This win-win-scheme was developed by the LIFE-project BlueAP and now, it generates private money. Companies, at a voluntary basis, compensate for their CO2 emissions and this money is used for planting trees. This scheme serves both mitigation and adaptation.

Hamburg aims for 100 ha green roofs in the city as this would enable it to cope with extreme storm water expected in the future at reasonable costs. In the initial phase of its green roof programme, the city encourages private house owners to establish green roofs by providing them with 30-60% of the establishment cost. Sure, seed money is needed, but in turn the private owners add more money.

Also small can be beautiful. Ghent generates money by crowd funding. Any resident can submit a project proposal to develop Ghent. Then, citizens can donate smaller or bigger amounts of money for the ideas. The proposals that are most supported by people get then an additional subsidy from the city. This works! The first small projects have been implemented among them urban farming and an “edible” street. The direct participation of citizens is an important additional benefit of that scheme that lets awareness and civic engagement grow.

The EEA report on financing urban adaptation shows these and more examples that can inspire, but maybe you want to create your own idea? Then identify exactly what is needed for adaptation in your city, look out of the box for solutions beyond the business as usual and include other stakeholders – public and private - go beyond the usual suspects. Don’t despair if you have only little money at the beginning. Creativity and well invested seed money can open the doors for more if you keep on going with building awareness, capacity, connect and exchange. While financing is definitely important, keep in mind that more is needed to actually do the job.