In August 2021, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that the 1.5°C global warming threshold is likely to be breached in the next 20 years. If such warming continues, it will result in irreversible impacts on nature and ecosystems. While continuous efforts are essential to mitigate climate change, we must simultaneously accelerate the investment in climate adaptation to build resilience to climate change and reduce any associated damage. China is among the countries that are most affected by climate change. It is estimated that climate risks, mainly drought, flooding, and storm surge, will increase in the future, threatening people’s life and the economy. In the face of this grim situation, action on climate adaptation must be undertaken now. Nevertheless, among all the key areas which are involved in climate adaptation, enhanced climate resilience in infrastructure is particularly important for protecting human life and avoiding economic losses from climate risks.

For this purpose, this report systematically defines and analyzes climate risks and the corresponding climate-resilient infrastructures. Building on three case studies, it evaluates future agricultural drought risks, urban waterlogging, and coastal storm surge faced respectively by three Chinese locations – Ningxia, Wuhan, and Shenzhen. Our findings suggest that climate risks faced by these three regions will continue to increase and it is necessary to improve the resilience of the infrastructures to cope with the risk. Based on a triple-dividend (i.e. avoid damage loss, economic benefit, and social and environmental benefit) framework, this report systematically analyzes the return on investment of three types of climate-resilient infrastructure– namely water-saving irrigation facilities, sponge city construction, and green-grey seawall construction – in the three case study areas. Our estimate shows that every RMB 1 invested can generate RMB 2-20 of returns over a period of 30 years (See Figure 1). Therefore, it is imperative to scale up these climate-resilient infrastructures across China in order to ensure food security and protect urban infrastructure and coastlines under severer climate change impacts.

Results of triple dividends and return on investment from climate-resilient infrastructure
Figure 1. The results of triple dividends on investment brought by typical climate-resilient infrastructure
Source: WRI

However, climate-resilient infrastructure in China faces significant financial shortfalls. We need to quickly fill the annual funding gap of nearly RMB500 billion over the next five years by developing new financing mechanisms and attracting more private investment (see Figure 2). Leveraging international experience, our findings suggest that in the three case study areas, innovative financial instruments – such as Resilience Bonds (RB), Public-Private Partnerships (PPP), and Resilience Impact Bonds (RIB) – have the potential to create effective new finance streams to fund climate-resilient infrastructure.

Figure 2. Adaptation Funding Supply and Demand in China by Sector
Figure 2. China's climate change adaptation funds supply and demand in various fields
Source: Chai et al. 2019

Finally, this report discusses the main challenges facing climate-resilient infrastructure investment and puts forward concrete actions for the Chinese government to address them (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Challenges faced by climate-resilient infrastructure (CRI) and policy recommendations
Figure 3. Challenges faced by CRI and policy recommendations
Source: WRI