What's Next? Thinking Above and Beyond Current Funding Opportunities - CivicWell

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What's Next? Thinking Above and Beyond Current Funding Opportunities

By Sean Kennedy, Special Projects Analyst at the Strategic Growth Council

Climate Change & Energy


March 14, 2024


On February 1-2, 2024, the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) convened over 300 frontline leaders, researchers, funders, and government partners in Sacramento for the second annual California Catalyst Conference, Progress in Place: From Power Building to Project Implementation. Hosted in collaboration with the Milken Institute, the conference drew on SGC’s experience to highlight best practices and tested models to catalyze equitable climate investment in California and beyond.

The 2024 Catalyst Conference took place against a backdrop of unprecedented levels of State and federal funding to address worsening climate-related challenges, particularly those faced by historically marginalized and disadvantaged communities. Across the climate investment landscape, individuals and organizations are leveraging this funding to support, design, implement, and maintain projects that generate meaningful and equitable community benefits. 

While historic, the current levels of public climate funding are insufficient to meet long-term needs. In a first-of-its-kind assessment of climate finance in California, Climate Policy Initiative’s report on California Landscape of Climate Finance estimates that California will need an annual average of USD 62 billion from 2023 to 2035 to stay on track for its climate goals. As such, there is a pressing need to support communities and organizations in identifying and implementing actionable, creative strategies toward equitable climate resilience now and in the future. 

Presentations and discussions were wide-ranging, reflecting both the diversity of participants – including government, community, Tribal, finance, industry, and advocacy leaders – and the highly varied ways that climate equity challenges are affecting communities across California. In a session titled “What’s Next? Thinking Above and Beyond Current Funding Opportunities”, Dr. Patrick Bigger, Research Director at the Climate and Community Project, and Sylvia Chi, Senior Policy Analyst at Just Solutions Project, discussed how the shortfall has prompted growing interest in leveraging limited and time-constrained public funds, from new forms of public-private partnerships to creative approaches to debt finance and municipal lending. 

The session offered a brief historical and conceptual overview of how constrained public finances have given way to the new consensus of using derisking to leverage private investment. The session then moved on to consider new and emerging strategies to optimize the potential of current opportunities in a way that supports the long-term interests of low-income and overburdened communities. Panelists discussed key challenges and opportunities presented by new Federal and State funding modalities that seek to blend public and private investment to accomplish public policy goals, including public banks, public-public partnerships, and other critical provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act and associated policies that cleave to the logic of ‘supply side liberalism.’ 

The session concluded with participant reflections on the limitations and possibilities for public finance under this emerging paradigm that offers unprecedented resources for climate action but also intrinsically relies on private sector investment contingent on options for profit.