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Engaging the Private Sector in Green Infrastructure Development and Financing: A Pathway Toward Building Urban Climate Resilience

This report from USAID Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments project examines the benefits of Green Infrastructure in improving a city's overall resilience to climate variability and change.
Aerial view of Lumphini Park, Bangkok, Thailand; Photo by Terence Ong, June 2007.


In 2050 it is expected that over 60 percent of the global population will live in urban areas, representing an increase of 2.5 billion people. The majority of this growth will be concentrated in cities across Africa and Asia, pushing service delivery systems to their brink. The introduction and integration of green infrastructure (GI) as a means to complement or replace traditional grey infrastructure is one way in which cities can create more adaptive systems and help their citizens thrive. This report* from the USAID funded Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project examines the many benefits of GI, including stormwater management, reduced heat impacts, increased biodiversity, and improved air and water quality that work together to improve a city’s overall resilience. The report captures the various types of GI, associated costs and benefits, mechanisms to engage the private sector in the promotion and integration of GI, and uses project case studies from Mexico, Sweden, China and the United States to illustrate many of the ways GI is already making an impact. The report also provides recommendations for improving the integration of GI in urban and peri-urban settings by (1) mainstreaming GI into planning processes and regulatory documents; (2) updating codes to include GI and enforce new regulations; (3) developing incentives structures; (4) communicating and demonstrating GI benefits; and (5) providing technical assistance and coordination for successful implementation. *downloadthe full report from the right-hand column. The key messages (taken from the Executive Summary) are provided below. See the full text for much more detail.

In the report

Green infrastructure (GI) is defined by USAID as “any engineered intervention that uses vegetation, soils, and natural processes to manage water and create healthier built environments for people and the natural resources that sustain them” (USAID 2017). In cities, GI can be a part of the solution to this set of challenges. GI delivers multiple benefits – stormwater management, reduced heat impacts, increased biodiversity, and improved air and water quality – that work together to improve a city’s overall resilience.

Cities can undertake a number of GI interventions with an array of benefits. This report focuses on some of the most common GI options, including: green roofs, bioswales and bioretention areas, permeable pavements, urban agriculture and native landscaping, wetland/marshland creation or restoration, mangrove restoration and rainwater harvesting. Readers can refer to USAID’s Green Infrastructure Resource Guide (2017) for further information about each of these options.

This report is divided into the following sections: (1) executive summary; (2) an overview of GI; (3) the types of GI; (4) the cost, benefits and challenges of GI in the development context; (5) mechanisms to promote GI in developing countries’ cities, including incentives for private sector investment; (6) recommendations for stakeholders to ensure the success of GI interventions; and (7) additional resources for GI. Four case studies of successful GI that yield both climate resilience and mitigation benefits in urban settings are provided to showcase opportunities for private sector involvement.


In many developing country contexts and more broadly, incorporating GI into planning, zoning, regulations and taxation (and ultimately capital expenditure and operations and maintenance (O&M)) is an effective way for a local government to improve climate resilience. The widespread adoption of GI in developing nations requires a holistic approach from local governments, the private sector and donors, mainstreaming GI into planning and regulatory documents, establishing incentives, providing education and outreach, and providing implementation support to government officials and contractors unfamiliar with GI (See page 2 of the Executive Summary for more detail):

Mainstreaming green infrastructure into planning processes and documents

Investment in GI requires (1) developing a long-term plan that lays out goals and priorities for GI, and (2) mainstreaming GI into planning documents, action plans, investment plans and budgets across the government. Exemplary approaches include:

  • Developing a long-term GI plan
  • Adding GI policy and interventions to department/agency-level policy and action plans
  • Incorporating GI into infrastructure investment planning
  • Establishing a monitoring and evaluation system for GI

Update codes to include green infrastructure and enforce new regulations

Updating building codes and regulations related to stormwater runoff and other anticipated benefits is crucial to the success of GI. Without codes in place that mandate some level of stormwater retention on site, for example, or that compel property owners to use GI to manage runoff, often little incentive exists to change practices, particularly if those practices are new or untested locally. Cities in developing countries must also take the lead in applying these new standards to public spaces. Exemplary approaches include:

  • Developing and enforcing a retention standard for stormwater
  • Requiring GI to manage runoff from impervious surfaces
  • Instituting a stormwater management fee
  • Introducing a discharge permit process

Develop incentives to promote green infrastructure

Incentives provide a counterbalance to regulations, and in addition to stimulating positive change in their own right, they increase public acceptable of regulatory changes. Incentives are particularly important in developing countries with little or no experience with GI, as beginning with incentives and then phasing in regulatory changes can help establish pioneers and a base of knowledge. The US EPA’s “Municipal Handbook: Incentive Mechanisms” offers four primary mechanisms in use by municipalities in the United States that could be adopted by cities in developing countries:

  • Development incentives (typically offered to developers during the process of applying for permits)
  • Stormwater fee discount
  • Grants for property owners or community groups
  • Rebates and financing

Communicate and demonstrate the benefits of green infrastructure

As with any major change in thinking, residents and business need information about GI: what it is, how it looks and works and what benefits it provides. For most cities in developing countries, this means assessments need to be conducted to study the feasibility and potential cost savings to both private firms and residents in the local context; demonstration projects need to be implemented to show in practice how GI works and further build the evidence base; and these results need to be communicated to the public to improve the acceptance of regulatory changes and buy-in for GI. Exemplary approaches include:

  • Building an evidence base through comprehensive economic and environmental analysis
  • Demonstrating the benefits of GI through pilot projects
  • Disseminating information about GI

Provide technical assistance and coordination for green infrastructure implementation

In some developing countries, GI may be a new concept, or it may already be in use, but not used intentionally as GI. City officials, O&M (operation and maintenance) staff, engineers, contractors and others involved in the water and sewerage infrastructure of a city will need technical assistance and training on the design, construction and O&M of GI. Exemplary approaches include:

  • Providing policy support either through consultants or with donor support
  • Providing capacity building and implementation support
  • Providing training-of-trainers sessions for municipal staff

Suggested Citation

USAID (2018) Engaging the Private Sector in Green Infrastructure Development and Financing:
A Pathway Toward Building Urban Climate Resilience. USAID: Washington D.C., USA, URL:

This publication was prepared for the United States Agency for International Development Adaptation, Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) projectby Chemonics International Inc.

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