Press release: World scientists, local leaders map research agenda for cities and climate change for coming years

A train zips by in Edmonton's light rail system. Photo: Mark Iocchelli via Flickr
Participants in this international event coalesced around several priorities for future research and action, including a better understanding of justice and equity in cities.

This release originally appeared on the website of CitiesIPCC. You can see that version here. Learn more about Future Earth's involvement in the conference here.

The CitiesIPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, hosted by the City of Edmonton, culminated today with the establishment of a global blueprint to better understand climate change, its impacts on cities and the critical role localities play in solving this challenge. Over the course of three days, scientists, policymakers, researchers and development experts worked to assess the current state of academic and practice-based knowledge related to cities and climate change, identify key knowledge priorities and chart a course forward for academic, practitioner and urban policy-making communities.

The conference agreed that transformation needs to happen now. Specifically, conference participants coalesced around the need for:

Inclusion and social transformation, focusing on:

  • Justice, equity
  • Power asymmetries and structural barriers
  • Most vulnerable populations & ecosystems
  • The challenges and opportunities of informality
  • Innovative forms of governance and institutions

Improving evidence-based information:

  • Boundaries of urban systems
  • Exploring trade-offs and synergies of climate change mitigation & adaptation
  • Data, scenarios and modelling at the city level
  • Robust climate and urban information
  • Inequity in data gaps; mapping informal settlements
  • Potential and benefits of Nature-Based Solutions

Funding & finance:

  • Role of banks, insurance companies & developers in climate action/inaction
  • Translation of costs & benefits of climate actions across multi-economic sectors (e.g. private/finance)

“The impacts of climate change are already being felt in our urban areas, and the next few years are critical for determining how effectively we will rise to the challenge of protecting our cities. However, we can’t undertake this work blindly. At this conference we have been able to coalesce around the most important areas of inquiry so we can use precious time and resources in the most efficient and targeted way possible. And this research won’t just help save our cities – it will also improve them for generations to come,” said Seth Schultz, Director of Science and Innovation, C40 Climate Leadership Group, and one of the co-chairs of the conference’s Scientific Steering Committee.

The conference, the first of its kind, was co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with nine partners – C40 Cities, Cities Alliance, Future Earth, ICLEI, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), UN-Habitat, and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).

“Years from now we will look back at this conference time in Edmonton and celebrate how the collaboration between the scientific community, policymakers and practitioners helped initiate positive change at the local level. I’m so proud that Edmonton was able to play host to some of the brightest minds on our globe and I’m committed to furthering the efforts that came out of this conference,” said Don Iveson, Mayor of Edmonton.

The CitiesIPCC conference helped forge stronger partnerships among the 750 leaders, innovators and influencers who registered, and cultivated a collaborative environment among academics, policymakers and practitioners to share new findings, initiatives and programs. Over 6,000 others from more than 30 countries followed the conference online.

“The unprecedented engagement we have seen over the past three days at the highest levels of leadership from around the globe means that this meeting does not end with our departure from Edmonton. We now travel home with a new responsibility to create modalities of science that open the ivory towers of the academic establishment towards more engaged, accessible and actionable knowledge for cities,” said Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, Vice-Chair of IPCC Working Group III and one of the co-chairs of the conference’s Scientific Steering Committee.

“Business-as-usual will not save the world. This conference disrupted the traditional story of the world’s cities to show how science can partner with policy and practice to transform the world’s cities into climate-smart, equitable and sustainable homes for all,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, and a member of the conference’s Scientific Steering Committee.

“With the contributions of cities and the risks to cities in the context of climate change loud and clear, solution-oriented knowledge is a must. This conference was a milestone on the way to  a collective effort by the science, policy and practice communities to co-create and co-design a global research agenda for the future and for forging partnerships among them,” said Shobhakar Dhakal of the Asian Institute of Technology and one of the co-chairs of the conference’s Scientific Steering Committee.

“This conference is not just a milestone for how the research community thinks about co-designing its priorities with diverse voices from across society. It has also issued a call to strengthen the social sciences so that we can better understand complex questions like the role of informal settlements in addressing climate change. We can only create real transformative changes in cities through research focusing on issues of equity, power distribution, integration of values and human behaviour,” said Anne-Hélène Prieur-Richard, Global Hub Director, Montreal, of Future Earth and one of the members of the conference’s Organizing Committee.

The three-day conference, organized by a Scientific Steering Committee made up of engineering, natural and social sciences, humanities and urban development experts focused on four major themes:

Cities and Climate Change:

Global commitments like the Paris Agreement, Sustainable Development goals, New Urban Agenda and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction require cities to implement new sustainable development plans to adapt and respond to climate change. This theme explored gaps in knowledge of climate mitigation and adaptation in the context of meeting these global commitments, including the costs of climate action/inaction, equity and justice issues related to climate change, and the imperative for actions resulting in low-carbon, climate-resilient, sustainable development.

Urban Emissions, Impacts, and Vulnerabilities:

Cities are some of the largest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, and as such, experience some of the worst effects of climate change. This theme explored current and future urban emission drivers, urban climate impacts and climate risks and vulnerabilities to provide science-based pathways for cities to pursue emissions reductions and resilience strategies.

Solutions for the Transition to Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Cities:

With the advent of advanced technological and scientific solutions to climate change, this session explored the transformative nature of cutting-edge sustainable development strategies. The theme included discussions about disruptive technology, urban infrastructure and design and institutional innovation.

Enabling Transformative Climate Action in Cities:

City climate action takes place in the context of diverse social, environmental, economic,and developmental realities. This theme explored new and existing avenues for enabling climate action that addresses poverty and inequality, re-shapes power relations and re-conceptualizes our vision of what cities are, could be and should be.

The findings from these sessions on recent advances in knowledge will stimulate timely publications to be assessed in the IPCC’s ongoing Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), scheduled to be completed in 2022. The menu of global and regional research inspired by the conference will also help inform a special IPCC report on cities, as well as support the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the New Urban Agenda, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the local level.