From the 4th to the 8th of March, more than 750 scientists, city leaders, practitioners, and influencers gathered in Edmonton, Canada for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference – the first IPCC conference focusing on urban issues.  The aim of the conference was to identify key research and knowledge gaps in the field of cities and climate change, and inspire future global and regional research that could lead effective and inclusive urban low carbon and climate resilient practices. Co-sponsored by the IPCC, C40 Cities, Cities Alliance, Future Earth, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), UN Environment, UN-Habitat, and World Climate Research Programme, the conference focused on four major themes:

  1. Cities and Climate Change
  2. Urban Emissions, Impacts, and Vulnerabilities
  3. Solutions for the Transition to Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Cities
  4. Enabling Transformative Climate Action in Cities

Stelios Grafakos and Jen Heemann, from the Urban Environment, Sustainability, and Climate Change (UESC) team of the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), had the honour and pleasure to attend this exciting event as well as co-organise two sessions for themes 3 and 4 and present the results of two studies that they are currently conducting.

On March 6th, IHS in collaboration with the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), organised the session “Interactions of climate mitigation and adaptation in cities: synergies and trade-offs”. Stelios Grafakos presented the preliminary results of a study he is leading in collaboration with twenty-two European researchers, which assesses the level of integration of climate mitigation and adaptation (Ad-Mit) policies in European Urban Climate Change Action Plans. The session also stimulated discussion among policymakers, practitioners, and academics to explore the current understanding of Ad-Mit interrelationships and define the most pressing topics needing to be investigated and analysed in future research.

Stelios Grafakos presenting IHS research on ad-mit interactions

On March 7th, IHS co-organised with the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission a session titled “The importance of monitoring and reporting for the aggregated impact of local climate action and the assessment of the Covenant of Mayors initiative”. Jen Heemann presented a study conducted by herself, Stelios Grafakos, and Spiros Stavropoulos, which compares GHG emissions data provided by local governments through the Covenant of Mayors and the Carbonn Climate Registry platforms. The presentation highlighted data gaps and challenges that currently constrain an aggregate assessment of cities’ emissions, and therefore compromise the scientific understanding of the extent to which cities are reducing emissions and achieving their mitigation targets. The results show that local governments need further support to monitor and report their emissions, which could be provided by the city networks.

Participants discussing climate Adaptation-Mitigation interactions in breakout groups

More information about all the sessions and topics covered by the conference can be found here. Overall, the IPCC Cities conference was a breaking point in the cities-climate change debate in the following distinct ways:

  1. Breaking knowledge silos: academics, practitioners, and policymakers had the opportunity to exchange their knowledge and experience and find ways to strengthen collaboration to address urban climate change issues;
  2. Breaking field silos: scientists from several fields (from climatology to social sciences; from mitigation to adaptation) shared the same sessions and panels, and highlighted the importance of cross-cutting research;
  3. Evidence-based policy-making: In the era of post-truth, evidence-based policy support and policymaking is needed more than ever both at the national and local level. Climate change science communication should reach broader audiences such as policymakers at different levels and the general public;
  4. The importance of social and behavioural sciences: No matter how fast clean technologies advance and their diffusion accelerates, the necessary transformation of our socio-economic system will depend, to a large extent, on behavioural changes. Therefore, social, behavioural, and citizen-based science should have an important role in the climate research agenda.

Although the exchange of knowledge and ideas were the main focus of the conference, it was very inspiring to see a strong determination by all participants to address the pressing challenges of climate change. Not only the urgency of the matter is so strong that it makes us question our own lifestyles, socio-economic, and technological systems, but the commitment for action was so prominent that it made the much-needed transformational change look plausible.

By the time the event was finished, we left with more questions than answers – that is what usually happens when you gather so many scientists in the same place. However, there is something that all participants agreed upon: we need to change our ways of thinking in order to go beyond incremental actions and tackle climate change and other environmental and social problems systematically. Cities need to be understood as complex systems of cultural, physical, and social variables instead of sectors and silos. In other words: we need a profound, transformational change . . . and we need it now.

By: Jen Heemann and Stelios Grafakos

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