The CitiesIPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, hosted by the City of Edmonton and co-organized by development organizations including SDSN, culminated 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 CitiesCities Alliance, Future EarthICLEI, 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).

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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Enabling Transformative Climate Action in Cities– City climate action takes place in the context of diverse social, environmental, economic, and developmental realities.

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. “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.

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. “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.

SDSN had a strong presence leading up to and at the conference by participating in and supporting the Scientific Steering Committee and Organizing Committee. Senior Adviser Jess Espey co-led a breakout session entitled “Enhancing Data and Data Infrastructure for Urban Community” while SDSN Member Jaume Alberti spoke on a breakout session panel entitled “Infrastructure Transitions and Urban Form.” On the second day of the conference, SDSN Canada held their first event to discuss the role of academia in urban policy making where 40+ people attended a small lunch. SDSN Leadership Council member Aromar Revi spoke on numerous panels and gave a keynote at the opening plenary. 

The conference concluded with the announcement of the research agenda on cities and climate change for the coming years. The Conference outcomes is also supported by a joint statement endorsed by 10 global organizations that were actively involved in the design and implementation of the conference. The CitiesIPCC Conference website will stay active to capture the other outcomes such as partners announcements, compilation of proceedings, official reporting to the IPCC as well as updates on the implementation of joint statement. IISD Conference website also compiles a daily coverage of selected photos and an overview of key sessions, where summary will be uploaded by 10 March.

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