By Mark Watts, Executive Director of C40 Cities

Cities are well-known as hubs of innovation and creativity. This entrepreneurial spirit isn’t just confined to the private sector operating in the world’s great metropolises, but is present across city administrations who show remarkable creativity and leadership. 

Across the globe, city governments have, often from necessity, found creative solutions to address some of their most pressing challenges.

Twenty years ago, Curitiba and Bogotá faced the challenge of finding new solutions to move people around their expanding cities. Unwilling to bear the high cost of metros, these cities innovated with bus transportation, creating the system now known and applauded worldwide as Bus Rapid Transit. Because it worked, hundreds of cities across the world, from the poorest to the richest, have since followed suit.

In a very different field, Tokyo and Washington DC have each applied similarly innovative approaches, pursuing market-based systems to drive forward improvements to building energy efficiency and stormwater drainage respectively. Tokyo even set up its own carbon trading system, which has subsequently been replicated and adapted by a number of Chinese cities. Toronto’s long-term approach to the proceeds from the sale of a city asset in the 1980’s has a lasting benefit to the city’s air and pollution levels, creating one of the world’s first municipal green revolving funds. Johannesburg led the C40 pack with an innovative green bond, raising millions for the implementation of much-needed sustainable infrastructure, and Copenhagen is working out the social value of cycling projects which provides an evidence base for increased government expenditure due to the significant social returns.

Such innovations come from visionary mayors and passionate city officials, all pushing to overcome the barriers and deliver the seemingly-impossible, working hard to deliver the goal of a sustainable and inclusive urban future.

One such visionary was the former Chair of C40 and former Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes. His focus was to ask C40 to find a way of breaking down the finance barrier that all-too-often stops transformative city projects in their tracks. At Mayor Paes’ instigation and working with GIZ – our superb German government partner, the C40 team, alongside forward-thinking government donors from Germany, the United Kingdom and United States, launched the C40 Cities Finance Facility (CFF) at COP21. It has become one of the most promising project development programmes in the world.

This week, the sustainable finance community, city leaders, academia and urban practitioners gather in the C40 city of Berlin to celebrate the success of the CFF over the last three years and share techniques and mechanisms to address the challenge of financing projects and find new solutions to support cities to play their full part in delivering on the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Known as the CFFactory – fittingly-called for the event’s focus on tangible results, a characteristic shared by the CFF itself – the event is the CFF’s first international conference and will showcase the significant progress the project has made since its launch. 

Featuring projects the CFF is supporting, including cycling in Bogotá, electric bus corridors in Mexico City and community-based climate adaptation in Durban, the CFF will also announce some of the cities selected for support in the CFF’s second phase of funding. Over the coming years, these cities will benefit from expert technical support, capacity development assistance, new connections to financiers and a full analysis of the financing options to support the delivery of their projects.

The CFF’s aim is truly transformative – a point clearly demonstrated by a new report to be published by the CFF in Berlin. Ensuring major infrastructure projects achieve a sustainable financing solution is a highly significant outcome, but providing cities with the skills and experience to construct thousands of kilometres of bike lanes, purchase hundreds of electric buses or rehabilitate vital streams and storm water canals without needing external assistance delivers deep transformation. Capturing and sharing the lessons to ensure cities from Dar es Salaam to Dhaka, Rio to Jakarta, can replicate successes, and implement their own transformative projects is where the CFF can have a lasting global impact.

Attendees to the CFFactory have been invited for their ability to help shape and inform the dialogue on city financing. Discussions will focus on solutions to financing challenges for cities across developing and emerging economies. Co-creation of new financing options will utilise the vast expertise in the room to find new approaches to complex challenges and help develop new and replicable financing models.

The CFFactory concludes with the chance to explore the green solutions developed by the city of Berlin, the CFFactory’s generous host city. From cycling infrastructure to decentralised storm water management, Berlin has worked hard to reduce its emissions and become more resilient to the effects of climate change. These inspiring projects will showcase the opportunities that other cities can learn from, while also sharing the financing approaches that allowed their successful implementation.

C40 and GIZ will continue to innovate, aiming to ensure the CFF and our wider work allows cities to focus on the innovative and radical solutions needed. Knowing that together, we will find the financing solutions and eliminate the finance barrier.

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