To address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, we must catalyze large-scale private investment in innovative environmental solutions. One place where such solutions are greatly needed is Louisiana, where more than 2,000 square miles of coastal land have vanished since the 1930s, putting communities and industries at risk from the effects of rising seas and increased storm surges.
This week, EDF begins work to develop the nation’s second Environmental Impact Bond, with support from NatureVest’s new Conservation Investment Accelerator Program, the conservation investing unit of The Nature Conservancy. In collaboration with our partners, Quantified Ventures and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, EDF will bring public, private and non-profit resources together to accelerate Louisiana’s coastal restoration and resiliency plans through a new Louisiana Coastal Wetland Restoration and Resilience Environmental Impact Bond.
Coastal wetlands are a form of “natural infrastructure” that provide storm protection by attenuating wave energy. Continual loss reduces these protective services, potentially increasing damage from a single storm by as much as $138 billion and generating an additional $53 billion in lost economic output from storm disruptions. If no actions are taken to restore and protect the coast, Louisiana could lose an additional 1,750 square miles of wetlands by 2060, posing a direct risk to as much as $3.6 billion in assets that support $7.6 billion in economic activity each year.
Can sustainable finance help save Louisiana’s Gulf Coast?
While Louisiana expects 15 years of Gulf oil spill-related funds to support restoration work, the state has identified less than half of the funding necessary. A pay-for-success environmental impact bond backed by these cash flows can help to close this funding gap by mobilizing funds from the private sector to accelerate the pace of restoration project implementation. Restoring the coast earlier in the planning horizon will allow the state to realize long-term cost savings.
Pay-for-success (PFS) is a form of performance-based contracting that ties payment for service provision to the achievement of measurable outcomes. The PFS model has emerged as a promising approach to fund social and environmental innovation. Quantified Ventures, a pay-for-success transaction specialist, paved the way for applying PFS in an environmental context with the development of DC Water’s 2016 Environmental Impact Bond (EIB).
In September 2016, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) raised $25 million from institutional investors Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and Calvert Foundation to finance the construction of green infrastructure projects that will reduce the volume of stormwater runoff entering the sewer system, thereby reducing combined sewer overflow events. If the projects perform as expected, DC Water will pay investors in accordance with the initial term rate of 3.43%. If the project outperforms expectations, DC Water will make an additional payment to investors for sharing its risk in the project. If the projects underperform expectations, then investors will make a payment to DC Water.
By sharing project risks between public and private sector partners, environmental impact bonds allow public entities to support innovative environmental solutions and private entities to put their risk-seeking capital to work. Given that sea level rise, land subsidence, storms and hurricanes add uncertainty to the successful outcome of wetland restoration, an EIB can shift part of a restoration project’s risk from Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to investors.
In collaboration with CPRA, EDF will select a wetland restoration project from Louisiana’s 2017 Coastal Master Plan to demonstrate the feasibility of an EIB for coastal restoration. This EIB will serve as a blueprint for investments in coastal resilience throughout Louisiana and other coastal states. We expect it may even usher in a new era of private investment in coastal resilience to help cities in the U.S. and across the globe that are already experiencing the adverse effects of climate change and are looking for solutions.
Public, Private, and Non-profit collaboration needed for a sustainable future
The amount of capital required to transition to a low-carbon economy, adapt our infrastructure to cope with the damaging effects of climate change, and preserve healthy ecosystems far exceeds the capacity of the philanthropic and public sectors alone. Of the estimated $1.5 trillion annual investment needed, roughly $700 billion is currently being invested. Innovative green investment products – like environmental impact bonds and green bonds – are helping to fill the $800 billion funding gap that remains.
We recognize that financial institutions have a role to play in addressing environmental challenges that goes beyond their direct investment dollars. EDF’s sustainable finance strategy seeks to leverage the influence, expertise and capital of the financial marketplace to protect the environment, improve livelihoods and achieve the ambitions goals in Blueprint 2020.
The project is funded by NatureVest, the conservation investing unit of The Nature Conservancy (naturevesttnc.org), through its Conservation Investment Accelerator Grant. With this support, EDF has an exciting opportunity to demonstrate how collaboration between the public, private, and non-profit sectors can address a critical environmental issue. We are excited to be working with Quantified Ventures and the state of Louisiana on this pilot project and hope that it will serve as a model for crowding-in private capital for coastal resiliency and restoration projects around the world.
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