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Billions more needed to address climate infrastructure needs of US cities: report

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Dive Brief:

  • A new report from the nonprofit CDP identified more than 300 sustainable infrastructure projects across 97 U.S. cities, with a collective funding and financing gap of at least $10.6 billion. 
  • The report, based on 2020 data from the CDP-ICLEI Unified Reporting System, found a total of $25.6 billion in sustainable infrastructure funding, ranging from climate adaptation and clean transportation to energy efficiency and water system upgrades. The true national scope of the infrastructure needs across the country is likely much larger, said Katie Walsh, CDP North America head of cities, states and regions.  
  • Walsh said the findings should demonstrate to federal policymakers and investors the scale of infrastructure funding needs in cities. “We want to show how these projects can make an impact on emissions … but also in growing local economies, creating jobs and racial and social equity,” Walsh said. 

Dive Insight:

The report offered a snapshot of the types of climate infrastructure projects cities are interested in. Wednesday, the Senate voted to advance a bipartisan infrastructure package, which will include $550 billion in new federal infrastructure spending. It will now enter a process of debates and amendments. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are pushing a separate $3.5 trillion budget resolution that would include more clean energy and climate funding and could pass without any Republican votes under Senate rules. 

In a letter to Congressional leadership, 146 mayors in the Climate Mayors group called for the infrastructure package to prioritize programs that allow funds to go directly to cities, prioritize disadvantaged communities and include workforce standards prioritizing job quality and equitable access. “We can address climate change, create economic opportunity, and confront injustice all at once through the American Jobs Plan,” the letter states. “Cities are ready to meet this moment and build an economy that is inclusive, robust, and sustainable.”

Details are still emerging about what will be funded in each of the federal packages, but the report makes clear that cities have a variety of needs. For example, the 24 Midwestern cities in the report disclosed $5.6 billion in water infrastructure projects, including a pumping and piping overhaul in Cincinnati and a $100 million stormwater and flooding mitigation network in Evanston, IL. A separate survey from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI) found that Great Lakes cities will need $2 billion in the next five years to handle coastal damage. 

Elsewhere, the CDP study found that cities are planning to spend heavily to retrofit or add resilience to existing buildings. In the Northeast, 19 cities reported more than 20 projects related to buildings, almost half of the total sustainability projects disclosed. 

“There’s no place in the country that is going to be untouched by climate change and its impacts,” Walsh said. “Cities are recognizing the risks and also the types of projects that can provide resilience and adaptation. That’s why you see it in all aspects and all sectors.”

A May CDP report found that 43% of global cities and 40% of 169 U.S. cities that reported data to the nonprofit do not have a plan to adapt for climate change issues. A quarter of the reporting cities said budgetary constraints are a major barrier to advancing climate adaptation. 

However, Walsh said, without an adaption and resilience plan cities may overlook the ways climate action could boost their economies or fail to identify infrastructure that is at risk. CDP offers cities a platform to disclose, measure and manage environmental impact, which the nonprofit says makes local governments more likely to take action on sustainability and infrastructure.

“If you haven’t gone through the measurement or developed a risk assessment, you don’t know what kinds of projects can help you become more resilient and adaptable,” Walsh said. “The question to ask is what about all the cities who aren’t reporting and identifying these projects.”

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