A Better Climate for Cities: CitiesIPCC Aims to Launch a New Research Agenda

By Julie Greenwalt

At next week’s Cities and Climate Change Science conference—known as CitiesIPCC—urban and climate researchers, practitioners, and policymakers will brave the cold of Edmonton, Canada, to discuss some of the century’s hottest issues. From March 5-7, more than 700 delegates—including notable scientists, representatives of the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), business and government leaders, researchers, practitioners and policymakersrepresentatives from approximately 80 countries—will present a diverse range of perspectives, experiences, and city contexts.

CitiesIPCC seeks to close a significant gap in our collective understanding of the role of cities in addressing climate change, both as managers of the consequences and as agents of an effective response. As one of the organising partners, Cities Alliance is working to ensure that issues critical to the Global South—including informal settlements and economies, secondary city growth, and local government capacity—will be emphasised at this landmark event .

Cities and climate change: Imperatives for action

The primary goal of CitiesIPCC is to assess the state of academic and practice-based knowledge, and to establish a global research agenda focused on cities and climate change that will fill key knowledge gaps in time to inform the IPCC’s next efforts, including a special report on climate change and cities planned for its seventh assessment cycle.

Notably, the IPCC did not dedicate a chapter to urban issues in its assessment reports until the fourth report in 2007. Ten years later, the IPCC has partnered with ten leading urban and scientific organisations and the city of Edmonton to stimulate more research on cities and climate change through the CitiesIPCC conference.

The conference has four themes:

(1) Cities and climate change (Imperatives for action)
(2) Urban emissions, impacts, and vulnerabilities (Science and practice of cities)
(3) Solutions for the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient cities (Science and practice for cities)
(4) Enabling transformative climate action in cities (advancing science and advancing cities) and cross-cutting themes on informal settlements/economies, health, the SDGs, and the food-water-energy NEXUS.

Breaking with tradition, CitiesIPCC will be more of a “working conference,” with all attendees expected to actively participate . More than 45 substantive sessions will address topics like green infrastructure, finance, and indigenous and youth perspectives. Concluding sessions will synthesise top priorities for a global research agenda that will be presented to the 48th Session of the IPCC in October 2018.

Cities Alliance: Prioritising the Global South

Ninety percent of urban population growth is projected to occur in Asia and Africa. Much of this future urban growth will be in secondary cities, informal settlements and unplanned urban expansion, where livelihoods will be mainly derived from the informal economy. To be successful, climate change solutions must be tailored to the specific context of cities with high levels of informal settlements and livelihoods and small and medium-sized cities.
Cities Alliance, a global partnership of organisations seeking to support the sustainable development of cities, is committed to ensuring that CitiesIPCC will recognise informal settlements and economies as a cross-cutting theme.

Other issues important to Cities Alliance members that will be addressed by the conference include finance, the urban-rural interface, and the implementation of global agendas, including follow-up activities. Empowering women to be agents of change is also a key priority of Cities Alliance, and requires consideration by researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in the climate change agenda.

Cities Alliance, its fellow organising partners, and the CitiesIPCC’s Scientific Steering Committee have made an effort to ensure that more than one-third of the delegates represent the Global South, which is critical to establishing a global research agenda that reflects the rapidly expanding cities of Asia and Africa. Issues like vulnerability, resilience, and co-benefits have been incorporated into discussions of the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient cities. However, other factors central to sustainable and productive cities—including the informal economy, human capacity in local governments, financing, forced evictions and displacement, and city services and housing—need to be better integrated into climate change research, policies, and approaches.

As Cities Alliance looks toward the future, we hope to focus on ensuring that the research agenda and the IPCC assessments will translate into better policies and action on climate change and sustainable urban development in all cities.

Where do we go next?

Over the past decade, we have witnessed great progress on climate action and sustainable urban development, including groundbreaking international agreements on climate change. Cities have emerged as leading climate actors, and garnered increased recognition for the role they can play in climate mitigation and adaptation. And on the research front, the conference’s call for proposals revealed a broad range of topics, from issues of environmental justice to air quality and heat island effects.

But where will this conference take us? Could a scientific conference convened in Edmonton, Canada, contribute to improving urban governance and climate action in Semarang, Indonesia, or to securing a more sustainable life for residents of Port Harcourt, Nigeria?

Ideally, the next decade will produce innovative urban planning curriculum based on the latest research on climate change and cities that could be used by the next generation of planners from New Orleans to Nairobi. We hope to see scientists as comfortable navigating informal settlements in Rio de Janeiro as they are modelling scenarios in a lab in Berlin. And national environmental and climate change advisors that will fully understand urban dynamics and use this knowledge to improve climate change policies and plans.

Edmonton is only the beginning. CitiesIPCC is an extremely important step to take—not just for researchers and policymakers, but for all of us—on the road to a sustainable future.

Watch livestreams of the plenary sessions at www.citiesipcc.org and follow @cities_ipcc.org for conference highlights.

Julie Greenwalt

Julie Greenwalt

Urban Environment Specialist at Cities Alliance
Julie Greenwalt is responsible for the Cities Alliance portfolio on climate change, environment and resilient cities, including the Joint Work Programme on Resilient Cities, and is one of the Organizing Committee co-chairs for the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference. She holds an M.S. in Urban Planning from Columbia University and a B.A. in International Relations, Spanish and Philosophy from Tulane University.
Julie Greenwalt