Cities and climate science: The next frontier

At present, urban communities contribute up to 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions globally. They are also among the most vulnerable hotspots for climate change impacts. It is critical that we now deploy evidence-based, science-driven to shape policy and action across urban areas worldwide.

The Cities IPCC conference held this past March in Edmonton, Canada brought together policymakers, practitioners and researchers to inspire the next frontier of scientific research that will inform climate change policy and action in cities. This is a critical part of advancing on global climate goals.

The conference set out to improve scientific knowledge and stimulate new research agendas, promote joint knowledge production, connect and initiate data platforms and catalyze funding to meet these goals.

Cities IPCC is an important step in a fairly complex process of change that brings us towards our global vision of low carbon, resilient cities.

This change requires targeted action on the ground, and strategically designed policy frameworks that are based on sound scientific evidence.

The Cities IPCC kicked off a global research agenda. But what now?

At the global level, the IPCC – the international body for assessing climate change science – has a mandate to provide science-based evidence to inform policy frameworks. Its research outputs will support the UNFCCC, the treaty under which the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted – in calling for priorities in funding and policy implementation. It is essential that the UNFCCC have access to this scientific evidence, specifically as it pertains to cities, so that the urban dimension of climate policy is effectively addressed through framework conditions.

However, without collaboration among policymakers, practitioners and researchers represented at the Cities IPCC conference, the IPCC cannot provide that high-quality evidence to the UNFCCC – or to cities aiming to shape evidence-based, science-driven policies. Hopefully, in the next several years, cultural barriers between the research community and cities will be broken, paving the way for targeted research priorities.

Researchers and universities should see themselves as part of the community first and university institutions secondarily. Today, we are already witnessing a change, as community service is becoming a more integral part of university charters and agendas. A number of cities are also doing their part to drive the scientific agenda by establishing public research institutions.

Underlying this is a clear need for open and interconnected data architecture that feeds research and links policy and action across levels of government. This architecture should enable the policy, research and practitioner communities to identify gaps in action and design measures that help fill those gaps. The carbonn Climate Registry – a global data platform for local and regional governments managed by ICLEI – opens the door for this to happen. The cCR is set up for integrated data reporting that enables different levels of government to get an real, up-to-date picture of climate action, which is critical for forming evidence-based policy. It is also a source of information for researchers who can use data cities report to analyze trends and identify gaps.

At the end of the day, what we know is that Cities IPCC marks the start of a critical, if complex, process of driving, shaping and recalibrating a global research agenda on cities and climate science, now and for the decades to come.

Message from Mayor Iveson, Mayor of Edmonton and host of the Cities IPCC conference:


This post is based on the Cities IPCC: Science for effective city climate action and resilience building session at Resilient Cities 2018.