Understanding the functioning of urban climate finance through topologies of reach

Grafe, Fritz-Julius; Forino, Giuseppe; Fraser, Arabella; Hilbrandt, Hanna and Morris, John Hogan (2023). Understanding the functioning of urban climate finance through topologies of reach. City (early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2023.2284383


Urban climate action is increasingly understood through the lens of finance: through financial agendas, interests, and practical tools which enable ‘bankable’ or profitable interventions. While the literature is rife with criticism of the normative foundations and exploitative effects of this approach, it fails to capture the variegated ways in which finance configures, and is configured by, particular urban sites and spaces of power. This contribution extends our cartography of urban climate finance by bringing to light the relational dynamics of financial practices and the ways in which they span across diverse urban sites in topological ways.

It has now become a common refrain among development and finance institutions that urban climate finance is, in fact, difficult to realize. A central reason for this is the perceived lack of possibilities to generate returns for investors. A topological perspective offers a relational view on the spatial practices through which new places are to be enrolled into the use of climate finance with the aim of stabilizing financial investment. Concentrating on the notion of ‘topological reach’, we show how climate finance, through its particular demands for bankability, creates new urban presences through spatial mechanisms of stretches, folds and distortions. By examining these topological mechanisms across a breadth of empirical material sourced from the individual research of the coauthors, we unpack the ways in which climate finance strategies are extended by a limited set of actors across space, often dominating and instrumentalizing urban climate action imaginaries and practices, while also failing to address a wide range of concerns and communities which fall outside of the operational parameters and speculative horizons of finance.

The topological perspective provides us with the tools to make these struggles visible and opens up avenues to contest contemporary climate finance practices on the ground and to decenter the overarching narratives that drive contemporary climate finance.

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