UCCRTF: Lessons from implementing urban resilience
Image: Flooding in the Philippines. Credit ADB.
Since its inception in 2013, ADB’s Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) has worked to embed resilience into the bank’s urban sector investments. It is only the beginning of the journey for the work that the fund helped pioneer. A successor fund, the Urban Resilience Trust Fund (URTF), was announced at COP26, with the remit to substantially scale up the work of the UCCRTF across the region. Originally scheduled to close in December 2022, the trust fund’s Financing Partners have just approved a six-month no cost extension for UCCRTF to: (i) carry out a comprehensive assessment of the trust fund and its activities; (ii) capture lessons learned; and (iii) facilitate the transition to and operationalization of URTF.
UCCRTF’s work has had a considerable impact. Over its lifespan, its support has been linked to $9.8 billion of approved investments. An estimated 8.5 million residents in over 70 cities in 8 DMCs are more resilient to climate change impacts thanks to UCCRTF-supported projects. The fund has supported various interventions at different scales, including cyclone shelters, emergency access roads; drainage and flood early warning systems; improved water supply, sanitation, and solid waste management; and primary healthcare centers. It has also supported pilots on innovative financing mechanisms, approaches for addressing cross-border climate change issues, nature-based solutions (NbS), community-led projects, and geospatial visualization tools.
The lessons learned from UCCRTF’s work are invaluable. It has pioneered new approaches to integrating and supporting climate-resilient urban development in ADB’s DMCs. However, it is a relatively small fund, with a remit to test new approaches in selected cities. To deal with the systemic climate resilience challenges faced by the thousands of cities in ADB DMCs, a new approach is needed. ADB has set its sights on being Asia and the Pacific’s ‘climate bank’ and has released a series of ambitious targets as described in its Strategy 2030, and operational priorities.
Lessons from the UCCRTF
The key lessons from UCCRTF’s experience in implementing resilience projects since 2013 can be grouped into four main areas:
Rethinking infrastructure: moving towards a holistic approach,
Systems thinking: cutting across scales and sectors,
Moving upstream: identifying the most effective entry point for resilience implementation and,
Taking a stepwise approach: embedding resilience practice systematically.
Rethinking infrastructure and moving towards a holistic approach
A shift towards resilience requires new thinking around what constitutes ‘infrastructure’ and the types of investments that can have the most impact. This entails moving away from asset-centric approaches to infrastructure development and towards systems thinking. In many cases, resilience goals can be achieved without any new hard infrastructure intervention at all.
UCCRTF introduced a holistic approach that enables increased attribution of the project cost to climate finance than would otherwise not be possible through traditional engineering-oriented incremental climate-proofing measures. It is important to engage ADB operational departments, as resilience assessments require significant additional work and coordination with DMCs on top of the regular business processes for loan preparation. 
URTF represents a significant increase in the level of ambition to increase the resilience of cities in Asia as they develop. The lessons learned from UCCRTF will inform the operations of the new fund. “Our thinking behind UCCRTF was that we wanted the fund to shift resilience thinking beyond business as usual… UCCRTF has demonstrated the concept and has delivered a huge amount of benefit on the ground.” Said Shantanu Mitra, Head of Infrastructure and Urban Development, FCDO India.
The challenge facing URTF is to retain the fundamental principles that formed the basis of UCCRTF’s work but to increase the scale of the impact and the speed at which resilience benefits are realized for ADB’s DMCs. “Fundamentally changing the way city planners and governments think about planning and development does not happen overnight.” Said Mitra, “One of the important challenges for the future is how to take the ideas and lessons from UCCRTF to scale.”
In order to deliver systemic resilience, the most appropriate investment is highly context-specific. Therefore, the decision about what is suitable for the city needs to be taken after consultation with stakeholders at different scales and informed by robust climate change assessments. A range of interventions that include soft measures, such as developing urban planning, supporting municipal governance and capacity building, establishing early warning systems, and running community engagement processes, is needed in addition to physical infrastructure interventions to promote lasting climate resilience.
For example, many ADB DMCs are prone to flooding caused by coastal inundation, river overflow or excessive rainfall. UCCRTF supported flood forecasting and early warning systems (FFEWS) in three cities, including Kolkata, India.  The FFEWS systems provide end-to-end forecasting to help cities to plan for hazards and include more than 300 sensors that provide real-time information on rainfall, flooding, and the status of pumps to inform appropriate responses from the city government.
In practice, urban resilience requires a systemic view that supports different aspects of resilience at the city level. UCCRTF’s work is anchored on ADB’s resilience framework which targets four dimensions of resilience (see Figure 2):
Figure 2: ADB’s Resilience Framework’s four key areas: Ecological, Physical, Financial and Economic, and Social and Institutional resilience.
Systems thinking: Cutting across scales and sectors
Another core principle for successfully building resilience that has been central to UCCRTF’s work is that interventions need to cut across scales and sectors to be effective. This is essential to deliver holistic resilience across the whole city system, with interventions that cut across multiple different city administrative departments, municipal and administrative boundaries, and affect a range of communities. Stakeholders at each scale need to be engaged:
National scale: Government support for climate adaptation and resilience building is vital. Depending on the DMC, national-level policy, finance and regulation can help to drive action on climate resilience at the regional and local levels. UCCRTF found that strong and committed political leadership and good coordination among relevant agencies were indispensable for implementing systemic resilience approaches. A supportive policy framework might include national priorities on addressing climate change impacts/adaptation; resilience design standards and encourage urban planning based on recent climate risk assessments.
City scale: Municipal planning is essential to identify investable projects that can contribute to long-term climate resilience. Building capacity at the city level to understand climate risk exposure and prepare climate risk-informed urban development plans is vital. An understanding of how resilience measures can help to promote economic development, deliver a more liveable urban environment, and protect lives and livelihoods has been a primary focus of UCCRTF’s work. Clarity from a clear, citywide vision and long-term plan is vital to avoid piecemeal implementation of systemic interventions.
Community scale: Working at the community level has been an essential factor for the UCCRTF to ensure that resilience interventions reach the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Involving communities in the identification, design and development of urban resilience projects can lead to more appropriate project design, community acceptance and support, and better long-term sustainability.
Moving upstream and resilience at the concept design phase
There is a necessity to embed resilience at all stages of the project planning process. The best results can be achieved when climate change is considered at the start of the project planning process. UCCRTF has invested around $62 million in supporting planning, climate resilience assessments in project concepts, preparation of feasibility studies, and preparation of detailed engineering designs for ADB projects, which has been linked to about $10.3 billion in approved investments--$5.2 billion from ADB financing, $2.08 billion in co-finance, and $3.02 billion from government counterpart.
Through its work, UCCRTF has found that it can have the most significant impact at the concept design stage once the overarching investment project has been identified at the national level. This is the stage where the ADB Project Officers and the DMCs develop the project components.
Figure 5: ADB’s Holistic Approach to Resilience includes four dimensions: Ecological, physical, financial and economic, and social and institutional resilience. These dimensions are considered at each phase of the project development process. The UCCRTF has applied resilience at the upstream, midstream and downstream phases, with the most impact achieved at the midstream phase.
The value of integrating resilience at this stage is that there is an overarching framework in place that lays out the aims of the investment and its target location(s). This means that UCCRTF’s recommendations can be more targeted and tangible. Support for climate resilience interventions at the project concept stage includes undertaking CRVAs at national, regional, and city levels that ultimately inform the identification of sites and subprojects that are needed at the city level. They also assess the sensitivity of the city and its infrastructure and evidence of its current capacity to build its resilience.
Taking a stepwise approach
One of the main lessons from UCCRTF’s experience was that integrating resilience into ADB projects requires a OneADB approach. Collaboration between the operations department and the Sustainable Development and Climate Change (SDCC) department, complemented by an attitude of openness to exchange knowledge and skills between relevant departments facilitates the complementation of practical field experience with emerging knowledge on climate change.
This extra engagement does mean that resilience projects may require more effort than standard ADB projects, at least until resilience is fully integrated. Starting the conversation early with the operations departments is therefore essential, as is bringing tangible ideas and examples for the conversation so that they can understand the value of resilience interventions. The resilience process creates significant work for project officers, and they need to see a clear benefit for their clients (such as effectively reducing the interest rates by blending in grants) or themselves (e.g., meeting the division’s climate finance targets).
UCCRTF experience shows that resilience approaches should be embedded systemically into ADB decision-making for all projects and investments. To do this, it suggests that taking a stepwise approach in project design that adopts a climate risk lens in the entire process. Doing so has multiple benefits, including the more effective attribution of project components as climate adaptation measures, therefore counting towards ADB’s targets for adaptation finance spending.
This approach was applied to the Coastal Towns Climate Resilience Project (CTCRP), which covers 22 coastal towns in Bangladesh. It strongly emphasizes climate-informed decision-making by producing climate resilience assessments at different scales, from the national and regional level down to the city level, and is specifically targeted at the upstream phase. The approach follows three steps:
Step 1: Establishing the Climate Vulnerability context: A multi-layered approach to assessing the climate vulnerability context allows for progressively more granular assessments to inform the project design process as it progresses.
Step 2: Statement of Purpose/Intent: Development strategies and plans at the national and regional levels inform the development objectives that guide the project design.
Step 3: Project/Sub-project activities and identified climate vulnerability link: Activities are developed with an explicit link to addressing climate change risks and reducing vulnerability.
This approach has significant benefits beyond the primary goal of producing infrastructure investments that are more effective in building systemic climate resilience, encompassing both physical (e.g., cyclone shelters, drainage) and non-physical (e.g., resilient livelihoods, climate-risk informed planning) interventions. In addition, the approach explicitly identifies climate adaptation elements of project components and helps to justify how they contribute to climate change goals. This can contribute to ADB’s achievement of its climate financing targets. In CTCRP, for example, 90% of the $250 million ADB project financing was attributed to adaptation finance.
The URTF will look to build on the work of the UCCRTF and will continue to work with ADB to take it to scale, a process that is likely to take a little time. “Fundamentally changing the way city planners and governments think about planning and development does not happen overnight.” Said Shantanu Mitra, Head of Infrastructure and Urban Development, FCDO India.
To do this, URTF will support the ADB in ramping up its climate adaptation investments, ensuring that it takes a whole-of-bank approach to climate action. It will ensure that robust climate assessments form the basis for country strategies to drive transformational change and private-sector engagement. URTF will drive change by (i) increasing the understanding of climate resilience across all scales to ensure that risks faced by societies and economies are fully reflected in public and private decision-making; (ii) improving investment planning to improve how policy and investment decisions are made and implemented; and (iii) driving innovations in finance for resilience, to mobilize the funds and resources required for adaptation at scale.
 $4.9 billion from ADB loans, $3.0 billion from government counterparts, and $1.9 billion of co-finance
 Per interview with Sasank Vemuri (Former ADB Project Officer, Vietnam) (November 2022)
 As part of the ADB Kolkata Environmental Improvement Investment Program – Tranche 2
Per interview with Joy Bailey Urban Climate Change Resilience Specialist (Consultant) with UCCRTF since July 2017 (November 2022).
 Per interview with Sasank Vemuri (Former ADB Project Officer, Vietnam) (November 2022)
 Bangladesh: Coastal Towns Climate Resilience Project Sovereign Project | 55201-001 https://www.adb.org/projects/55201-001/main
 Global Commission on Adaptation (2021) https://gca.org/reports/adapt-now-a-global-call-for-leadership-on-climate-resilience/