ClimateLink: Strengthening Communities through Climate Finance

Title: ClimateLink: Strengthening Communities through Climate Finance

Team Members:

Short Summary of the Improvement Idea

This proposal advocates for the development of a nuanced, intersectional protocol for distributing climate adaptation and mitigation funds from state and federal agencies to local community groups. Funding is a critical challenge for moving climate adaptation and mitigation projects forward, and this is especially true when it comes to ensuring those most vulnerable to climate change impacts receive the necessary funding to prepare for the change to come. Current protocols surrounding public funding are rigid, bureaucratic, and lack a human-centered approach. This project aims to ensure that climate action funds are allocated in a manner that addresses the multidimensional nature of climate justice, recognizing the diverse impacts of climate change across various communities and promoting equitable, inclusive, and effective climate action.

  1. What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance?

The existing protocol involves the distribution of federal and state funds for climate adaptation and mitigation through granting programs aimed at disbursing funds to local community groups. Public climate finance funding is disseminated locally through competitive grants, formula grants, and direct allocations. This can be through federal dollars distributed through the EPA for clean energy and climate solutions from the Inflation Reduction Act’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund or the State of California’s adaptation and resilience grants, for example. Grant recipients must adhere to protocols such as environmental reviews, reporting and monitoring requirements, and compliance with funding criteria. Grantors have their own set of protocols, requirements, and cultural practices that limit the communication of opportunities, distribution of funds, evaluation of outcomes, and determinants of successful implementation.

This funding approach, while well-intentioned, lacks a comprehensive framework that addresses issues of inequitable distribution, exclusive processes, and historic injustice. Current climate finance protocols often overlook the complex socio-economic and cultural dynamics at play within impacted communities. For public climate finance to be more equitable and just, we need to revisit the implicit and long-standing protocols and norms that accompany the movement of funding across scale (federal and local), scope (adaptation and mitigation), industry (development and technology), and temporality (incremental and transformative change). Granting and the dissemination of public funds is a system that has been in place for decades and spans industries, countries, and problem areas, making it a protocol that could be examined and implemented both horizontally in the specific field of climate finance as well as vertically across domains.

  1. What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?

The core idea is to create a more inclusive, transparent, and flexible funding protocol that acknowledges and addresses the unique needs of climate-vulnerable communities, enhances trust, and ensures funds are distributed equitably and used to empower communities. Current protocols around equitable climate finance are faced with the following challenges:

  • Local Context: Different communities face varying levels and types (e.g., wildfires, sea level rise, storm surge, etc,.) of vulnerability to climate change based on their geographical location, socio-economic status, and infrastructure. Protocols must consider these disparities and tailor funding criteria to meet the specific needs of each community.
  • Data and Information: Availability of accurate and up-to-date data on climate vulnerabilities and community needs is crucial for effective fund allocation. However, many climate-vulnerable communities lack the resources to collect and maintain such data, making it challenging to assess their needs accurately.
  • Capacity Building: Some communities may lack the capacity to develop and implement climate projects, hindering their ability to access funding. Protocols should include provisions for capacity building and technical assistance to ensure that all communities can benefit from climate finance.
  • Decision-Making Processes: The process for allocating funds must be transparent, inclusive, and participatory, ensuring that marginalized communities have a voice in decision-making. This can be challenging in practice, especially in communities with limited resources and representation.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: Effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are essential to ensure funds are used efficiently and achieve their intended outcomes. However, many communities lack the capacity to monitor and evaluate projects, leading to challenges in assessing their impact, which may negatively impact their ability to access future funding.

To improve upon existing protocols and strive for a more equitable distribution of climate funds, our potential improvement would consider the following principles:

  • Equity: Ensure funding is distributed fairly, considering each community’s unique needs and vulnerabilities.
  • Inclusivity: Involve all stakeholders, especially marginalized and climate-vulnerable groups, in designing and managing funding opportunities to ensure their needs are heard and addressed.
  • Transparency: Make the allocation process transparent and accessible to all stakeholders, providing clear criteria and guidelines for funding.
  • Accountability: Establish mechanisms to monitor and evaluate (M&E) the use of funds while ensuring these M&E tools are equitable and available to all, ensuring that they are used effectively and achieve their intended outcomes. This could be in the form or grants that provide extra funding and technical assistance for data collection and reporting.
  • Adaptability: Recognize that climate change impacts and community needs are dynamic and require flexible funding mechanisms that can adapt to changing circumstances.

These improvements would not only distribute resources fairly but also acknowledge and address systemic inequalities, promote participatory decision-making, and value the local knowledge and experiences of diverse communities, thereby resulting in more effective use of climate adaptation and mitigation funds.

  1. What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol?

The methodology will include desk research, interviews, field observations, and case studies to analyze the successes and failures of similar funding and granting protocols through analogous research. Through a human-centered design approach, we would gather insights from interviews to understand how funds have been allocated historically, currently, and the outcomes of these distributions. Engaging with community leaders and groups directly to understand their perspectives and challenges will be crucial. Similarly, understanding the experiences, incentives, and constraints of the funding agencies will shed further light on potential barriers and opportunities for improvement.

  1. In what form will you prototype your improvement idea?

The project will involve interviewing individuals from various locations to understand their climate funding protocols. Through these interviews and additional research and analysis, we will identify themes related to equitable climate finance and the protocols that support them. Based on these findings, we would develop a prototype in the form of a comprehensive framework with guidelines, best practices, and tools for integrating climate justice into fund distribution, thereby improving existing climate finance protocols.

  1. How will you field-test your improvement idea?

The framework will be tested through a pilot program with selected stakeholders and communities with varying demographics and environmental contexts for feedback. We would pilot the prototype with stakeholders (public agencies and/or local recipients of funds). We would identify research participants and testers through our existing relationships with government agency staff and members of community-based organizations. We would set up interviews, surveys, and workshops to gather feedback on the framework and solicit recommendations for improvement and usability. This process will serve as the testing phase for the prototype, where we will assess the feasibility of implementing the proposed guidelines and revised funding protocol.

  1. Who will be able to judge the quality of your output?

Experts in climate justice, community development, public administration, and representatives from the target communities, including local leaders and activists, including those most affected by climate change, will be instrumental in assessing the framework’s success in achieving its intended goals. Specific stakeholders appropriate for evaluating the quality of the work and approach include: federal government agencies (EPA, NOAA, HUD, DOT); city and regional government agencies (planning, transportation, parks and recreation); community groups and NGOs (advocates, think tanks, organizers); experts and academics (scientists, theorists, consultants); and beneficiaries (community-based organizations, residents and those most vulnerable to climate change and who stand the most to gain from an improved funding protocol).

  1. How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea?

The refined framework and its successes will be shared through publications, policy briefs, and conferences focusing on climate change, urban planning, and social justice. Additionally, we will engage with policymakers, practitioners, and community leaders to promote the adoption of the framework through digital communications, in-person events, and existing outreach pipelines.

  1. What is the success vision for your idea?

Success for this project would be the creation of a framework that ensures funds reach the most impacted and marginalized communities effectively, fosters trust between the government and these communities, and enables meaningful, impactful climate adaptation and mitigation efforts informed by local knowledge and needs. By better understanding how funds are distributed from federal to local levels for climate action and improving how these funds are allocated equitably, we hope to provide insight and opportunities for change within other granting, equitable finance, and participatory funding protocols.

We also see the potential of this project to help inform existing blockchain projects or leverage blockchain-based applications, including DAOs (to manage and distribute funds for climate adaptation and mitigation more transparently and democratically), quadratic funding (to ensure the distribution of funds better aligns with community preferences), ledger and smart contract based funding platforms (providing transparency and traceability in the distribution and use of funds), or decentralized surveys and polls for community feedback. To ensure the applicability of this work to current systems, we will initially plan to take a non-technological approach. Still, we will make recommendations where appropriate and where the technology supports adoption.