Climate Finance for Canadian Cities: Is Debt Financing a Viable Alternative?
Municipalities are crucial stakeholders in the response to climate change. Cities are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and, due to their higher building and population densities, will bear the brunt of the economic and social costs imposed by extreme weather and the impact of climate change. Ontario municipalities have traditionally funded their investments from property taxes, user fees, and transfers from higher levels of government, but these sources will not be sufficient to fund both current expenditures and future capital needs. This paper explores an alternative: climate finance, the provision of financing by private actors for projects intended to decrease carbon emissions or make cities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. It analyzes four climate financing tools used in other jurisdictions – green bonds, environmental impact bonds, catastrophe bonds, and green banks – and their feasibility under current Ontario regulations. Not all instruments would be equally suitable to Ontario municipalities; each offers trade-offs that must be weighed before implementation. Still, the potential for climate financing is huge and it has a role to play in long-term climate infrastructure projects requiring large upfront investments.