3 new strategies to help communities unlock resilience funding ahead of another summer of extreme weather

As we transition to the summer season, communities across the country brace for heatwaves, wildfires, drought, and hurricanes. 2023 saw record-shattering heat—a key factor to extreme weather events becoming more frequent, costly, and often deadly. Minnesota—which this week is hosting the National Adaptation Forum—is already experiencing poor air quality from Canadian wildfires, which contributed to air quality advisories across country last summer.

To prepare for these and other worsening extreme weather impacts, communities need support planning adaptation measures and completing projects that will increase their long-term resilience. Working with communities, I often hear how complex funding processes and limited local capacity are barriers to effectively planning and completing resilience projects on the ground; especially in underserved communities.

Our latest research brief, Unlocking Community Resilience: Innovative Strategies to Access Climate Adaptation Funding, explores 3 innovative and practical strategies to overcome funding challenges and accelerate local resilience investments. Case studies from Colorado highlight these strategies in action from various leaders: the state, a business improvement district, and a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and can be applied across a wide range of geographies and resilience needs.

3 inspiring strategies to unlock resilience funding for communities

  • boosting local capacity to identify resilience projects and apply for federal grants. The first case study features Colorado’s Regional Grant Navigators who are full-time, paid staff working across the state to align community goals with available funding opportunities and overcome the complexities of the grant application process. To increase community climate resilience, this program helps local governments identify their climate risks and coordinate adaptive solutions, including connecting communities with similar objectives and facilitating larger regional projects that can attract federal funding and enable smaller communities to leverage the capacities of larger ones.
  • stacking public and private funding to implement and scale resilience projects. The second case study features  Downtown Denver Partnership’s Urban Forest Initiative that is blending public, private, and philanthropic funding to incentivize property owners to make resilience investments that improve the downtown tree shade canopy. To increase community climate resilience, this program focuses on expanding tree beds to enable the growth of larger street trees so that residents, visitors, and downtown property owners can experience improved cooling and air quality alongside other benefits such as increased public health, business revenue, and building energy efficiency.
  • streamlining access to multiple financial resources for residents and businesses. The final case study covers the Impact Development Fund’s Disaster Recovery Program that manages a range of public and private funding sources and distributes them via one simplified process to households that were affected by the devastating 2021 Marshall Fire. To increase community climate resilience, the program expanded beyond addressing immediate, basic needs of post-disaster recovery by incorporating funding for rebuilding (including building new homes in areas affected by disaster) and pre-disaster resilience (including home-hardening and electrification) to help the community mitigate and adapt to future climate risks.

These strategies and leading examples from Colorado can be applied across a wide range of geographies and resilience needs. Changes at the federal level can further support and scale these emerging funding strategies nationwide, including ultimately increasing access to financing for communities.

Learning from leading communities and organizations in Colorado

Insights on innovative strategies and local examples were uncovered during C2ES’s first regional Climate Resilient Communities Accelerator, launched in 2023 to support communities and businesses that operate in Colorado’s North Front Range. The state of Colorado faces growing impacts of wildfires and extreme heat due to increasing temperatures, dryer air, and more extreme precipitation patterns. Through last year’s Accelerator convenings, a diverse set of leaders identified and explored 7 key action areas for wildfire and heat resilience that could be implemented and scaled with collaborative partnerships and innovative funding strategies.