Field notes from CitiesIPCC: Day 1

The CitiesIPCC conference brings together hundreds of experts from across cities, including researchers, city officials, urban planners and others. Photo: IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis
Mar 2018
6

Future Earth's Daniel Strain shares his experiences at this international event exploring the role that cities play in causing, and potentially solving, climate change.

The Cities and Climate Change Science Conference (CitiesIPCC) runs from 5 to 7 March in Edmonton, Canada. To learn more about this event, see Future Earth's conference web page here.

Read our summaries of Day Two and Day Three.

The CitiesIPCC conference, like most scientific gatherings, kicked off with a light breakfast and tureens of coffee. But it wasn’t until later in the morning that speaker Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), captured the spirit of the event. “Good morning, Anthropocene. It’s here. It’s real, and we have to deal with it,” Revi said during the conference’s Theme 1 Plenary focusing on “imperatives for action.”

You can watch Revi’s talk and other selected events from the conference here.

Aromar Revi speaking at CitiesIPCC. Photo: IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

The Anthropocene is a proposed geologic epoch that recognises that humans have had profound impacts on the planet – from causing climate change to driving a wide range of animals, plants and other living organisms to extinction. And cities are one of the most iconic symbols of that human age. They generate massive volumes of waste and greenhouse gas emissions, but are also cultural and economic meccas. According to Revi, the world’s urban areas generate more than one trillion USD in economic gains every year. 

Given that cities have both good and “dark” sides, as Revi put it, the question facing participants at this week’s conference is: “Are these places in which the climate transformation can be made?”

Not a small task for a three-day meeting.

Monday morning

One place to start may be exploring who is able to ask and answer that question. The theme of the morning, for me, was “inclusion” – both in climate change policy and science.

It came up in the opening plenary, which Elder Ron Arcand of the Alexander First Nation, a governing body for several indigenous communities in this region of Canada, started with a blessing.

 

Afterward, we heard from Audrey Poitras, President of the Métis Nation of Alberta. Métis people, Poitras said, played an important roll in the formation of Edmonton in the 19th Century. Today, they have witnessed the tell-tale signs of the Anthropocene first-hand, including shifting weather patterns and disappearing fish populations. When studying such issues, “We urge that your science and the rigor behind its research be mindful of our elders and the traditional knowledge they hold,” Poitras said.

You can watch my conversation with Leroy Little Bear of the Blackfoot Confederacy who talks about the breadth of knowledge that indigenous communities hold around climate change:

 

Later that morning, in a panel discussion following Revi’s talk, Sheela Patel of Slum Dwellers International made a similar call for inclusion – in her case, addressing people who live in informal settlements around the world. Patel said that these urban residents often lack basic access to the legal structures or infrastructure that cities typically provide. Her group works to map and collect data on informal settlements, which she says is a necessary step to “producing a voice” for these communities in discussions about climate change and other issues.

“Poor people, poor communities, women especially, and young people in general have to deal not only with transforming their self-image as critical actors in this process, but have to learn the production of simple, actionable choices that they can promote amongst their communities,” Patel said.

 

Talk of inclusion, however, wasn’t just limited to people outside of academia. In the same panel discussion, an audience member expressed concern that cities were seeking guidance from climate scientists, but not social scientists with expertise in human behaviour. Future Earth’s Executive Director Amy Luers, who sat on the panel, jumped in with a reply. She talked about her time serving in the U.S White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) under President Barack Obama. That office, Luers said, drew on a wide range of research in its work, including from the physical, natural and social sciences.

“I think we can have our cake and eat it, too,” Luers said. “Actually, I think we have to.”

 

Monday afternoon

After a lunch (vegetarian!), I joined a conversation on platforms that may help cities to become, as Aromar Revi said, “places in which the climate transformation can be made.”  Those platforms are city networks – organisations that link together cities from across the world so that they can learn from each other.

Present at the discussion were representatives from C40, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) and Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Anne-Hélène Prieur-Richard, Director of Future Earth’s Global Hub in Montreal, also joined in the session. The speakers sat in a circle, which they called a “fish bowl” – fitting since the goal of the session was to “break down siloes,” as one participant said.

 

The speakers discussed not only breaking down siloes between cities but also between researchers and city officials, urban planners, practitioners and more. They were excited to generate collaboration between cities and the research community – although participants noted that the two speak “different languages” and work at different speeds. Prieur-Richard, for example, said that cities could make natural laboratories for studying various strategies and technologies for reducing the world’s carbon emissions.

To that, Trude Rauken of the USDN, an organisation that seeks to “accelerate urban sustainability” in the United States and Canada, replied, “The invitation is there. We have the living laboratories to offer.”

In all, it was a busy, invigorating, exhausting and inclusive first day for the CitiesIPCC conference. Since I gave Aromar Revi the first word, I’ll give him the last, too. After mentioning the “dark side” of cities, Revi ended his morning talk by borrowing another line from Star Wars: “May the force be with you."

 

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