Aloke Barnwal

Senior Climate Change Specialist & Coordinator, Sustainable Cities


Global Environment Facility

I work for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) which is a family of funds dedicated to confronting biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, and strains on land and ocean health. Its grants, blended financing, and policy support help developing countries address their biggest environmental priorities and adhere to international environmental conventions. Over the past three decades, the GEF has provided more than $23 billion and mobilized $129 billion in co-financing for more than 5,000 national and regional projects.

Engagement with cities and local governments is a very important part of the GEF’s work. We have a specific Sustainable Cities program that was launched in 2016 and which I coordinate. Together with development banks (The World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank), UN agencies (UNEP, UNDP, UNIDO), city-based organizations (ICLEI, C40 and WRI) and other partners, we implement urban sustainability projects that take a systemic approach – supporting investment in integrated sustainability solutions, catalyzing innovative financing and business models, and facilitating global collaboration, knowledge exchange and partnerships to be able to transform cities.

The GEF itself provides direct climate and nature finance in the form of grants through country projects that involve selected cities. Till date we have already provided more than $300 million to more than 50 cities in 17 countries. Through our finance, we support high impact and innovative urban sustainability solutions that deliver multiple benefits to cities in tackling climate, biodiversity loss and pollution in an inclusive manner. Please refer to our program website UrbanShift for examples of solutions we are supporting in cities with our partners.

We also work as a catalytic financier for cities to leverage large scale funds for climate action. This includes our partnership with development banks which have blended their urban investments with GEF grants to support integrated land use planning, sustainable transport, waste management, nature based solutions and clean energy solutions in cities like Chennai, Chengdu, Abidjan, Freetown, Kigali, Dakar, Lima and Xalapa. In addition, the GEF has also leveraged co-financing from national governments and city governments. To date we have leveraged more than $3.5 billion in co-financing under the Sustainable Cities Program.

We are also building the systemic institutional capacity of cities in accessing climate finance. Some of the projects that we support are developing climate action plans –our program partner C40 has for example worked with Freetown in Sierra Leone to develop the Freetown Climate Action Strategy. Our partners UNIDO and UN-Habitat have also developed Sustainable City Strategy of five cities in India with urban financing as a key pillar. The program’s global platform also develops financing guides such as the Municipal PPP Framework Modules, organizes in-person Finance Academies, and a set of online City Academy courses were just launched which includes a course on Accessing Urban Climate Finance.

The GEF works as a partnership, and collaboration is at the core of our sustainable cities program. To this end, we have created a global platform under the sustainable cities program to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, establish strategic relationships, and share lessons from urban sustainability investments. These platforms help to connect cities and city-based organizations as a means of enriching learning experience toward advancing the sustainable cities agenda. We are always happy to explore new collaborations, so feel free to reach out to us with any ideas or questions. You can also check out our cities webpage, the program page which is branded as UrbanShift and our global knowledge platform GPSC. You can also follow GEF and UrbanShift on social media or simply send a message to the team via email.

We are glad to collaborate with CCFLA on the topic of urban climate finance. As the coordinator of sustainable cities program, I value this collaboration as it enables me to reach out to more collaborators who are part of this alliance. As a climate finance mechanism and global partnership, the GEF also directly engages in relevant global and regional forums such as COPs and World Urban Forums. We use these forums to exchange information and learn from others. We also create our own events such as city academies, online webinars and bigger convenings such as the UrbanShift Asia Forum held in Delhi last year in 2023 where more than 250 city leaders and practitioners deliberated on topics related to climate finance, urban planning, and climate solutions. Convenings like these enable us to disseminate lessons and trigger interesting conversations with local governments and other actors that are active in the field of urban sustainability.

Our engagement with CCFLA provides clear opportunities to explore new and innovative mechanisms to mobilize urban climate finance at scale, which otherwise can be challenging for many local governments. Connecting cities with new sources of funding, both international, domestic and within the private sector, will be key to solve the climate challenges that we are faced with. Sharing of experience and best practices within CCFLA brings new ideas and perspectives to this work. We also often refer to CCFLA’s research and analysis to inform our strategy development and programming. We have also benefitted from their expertise in several capacity building activities such as city academies supported under our sustainable cities program.

We have connected the CCFLA Secretariat and its members to our partners and cities where we have invested and unlocked new opportunities to invest in urban climate and sustainability solutions. At the global stage, we have also contributed to events and discussions on urban climate finance organized by the CCFLA. We have cemented a strong partnership in the last few years which is a win-win for both of us and more importantly for cities which will benefit from our common goal of delivering sustainable urban transformation.