Urban practitioners invited to help scope critical IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Cities

Authored by Pourya Salehi, Ariel Dekovic, Yunus Arikan, and Maryke van Staden from ICLEI World Secretariat

At the 43rd session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Nairobi in 2016, the panel decided to include a Special Report on Climate Change and Cities (SRCC) in the IPCC Seventh Assessment Cycle. This achievement marked a crucial step towards understanding the complex and dynamic challenges that cities face because of climate change and how they might be addressed. 

The IPCC is the United Nations’ independent body for assessing science related to climate change. The IPCC’s commitment to independence allows it to contribute effectively to our global understanding of climate change, benefiting policymakers, scientists, and the public alike. Through expert-coordinated processes, the IPCC assesses the scientific literature to inform and shape policies that resonate across scales, from local municipalities to international agendas. The IPCC’s SRCC will draw on the collective expertise of its 195 member governments, as well as the accredited observer organizations and multiple working groups.

As urban landscapes expand, they become the crucibles where human activity meets environmental impact. The IPCC’s SRCC, the only special report to be prepared under the IPCC’s seventh cycle, will not just serve as an analysis but will also set the stage for the seventh assessment cycle and spotlight cities’ pivotal role in international climate discourse. 

The SRCC’s focus on urban environments and their relationship to climate change makes it a critical contribution to the assessment process. Its insights will inform global policies and actions related to climate challenges in cities, ultimately impacting all scales of action. In addition, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has invited the IPCC to contribute to the Global Stocktake 2.0 (GST 2.0), which is scheduled to be concluded in 2028. In light of this, it is expected that IPCC’s insights, particularly from the SRCC as the first product to be prepared under the seventh cycle, will play a crucial role in shaping policies and actions related to climate challenges in urban contexts. 

ICLEI recognizes the significant impact of this report. Through advancing key initiatives such as our Global Research and Innovation Strategy and leveraging collaboration spaces with our fellow partner organizations, including the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities Constituency (LGMA) and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM) – especially through the Innovate4Cities initiative and conference series – ICLEI is committed to working closely with our allies to support the SRCC development process from the very beginning. As an accredited observer organization to the IPCC, we aim to support the activities of this intergovernmental panel and ensure that the urban practitioner community is well-equipped to collaborate with the scientific community in the preparation of this report.

Based on the significant decisions made regarding the IPCC panel’s strategic roadmap for the Seventh Assessment Cycle at the IPCC 60th Session in Istanbul in January 2024, the Special Report on Climate Change and Cities is expected to be provided in 2027. As part of the process of developing this report, in the fourth quarter of 2023, the IPCC initiated a crucial step by inviting nominations for the Scoping Meeting related to the SRCC. This call for nominations was extended to both member governments and accredited observer organizations. Once the nomination call was closed in November 2023, the IPCC Bureau conducted an independent selection process. In early 2024, the IPCC Secretariat contacted the selected experts and invited them to participate in the upcoming scoping meeting for the SRCC, which is scheduled to take place in Riga, Latvia, from April 16 to 19, 2024. 

Given the IPCC’s renowned independence in its decision-making processes, the decision by the IPCC Bureau to include a select group of urban practitioners alongside scientists in the scoping meeting for the Special Report on Climate Change and Cities has underscored the new leadership’s commitment to promoting a collaborative approach between scientists and the urban practitioners community. This strategic inclusion guarantees that the report will be a co-creation between academia and urban experts from the onset, with the intention to ensure its value as an indispensable resource for cities worldwide.

The purpose of the scoping meeting is to draft the outline for the special report. During this meeting, scientists, academics, and experts will come together to present the structure, focus, and framework of the report and shape its content and direction. By defining the scope and key areas of investigation, the scoping meeting sets the groundwork for the subsequent development of the SRCC. The outcomes of the scoping meeting will be presented to the 61st session of the IPCC, which is planned for July 2024 in Sofia, Bulgaria. During this session, the panel will review, discuss, and consider ratifying and approving the report’s scope and framework.

As the longest-established global network of local and regional governments, ICLEI is proud to have contributed to the IPCC’s call for nominations by recommending a carefully selected cadre of urban practitioners and local policymakers alongside a few scientists with profound experience in urban contexts. The selected nominees, who are deeply knowledgeable about cities and local governance, have been proposed in hopes that their independent expert perspectives will enrich the discussions and complement the selected scientists’ perspectives at the scoping meeting in Riga. 

A New Dawn for Urban Practitioners in the Climate Science Landscape: From History to Future Paths

The involvement of city perspectives in climate science comes out of a long line of collaboration between the scientific community and urban practitioners. 

In terms of significant past engagements, the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, co-sponsored by the IPCC in Edmonton, Canada, in 2018, is particularly noteworthy. This event brought together representatives from academia, scientific bodies, concerned United Nations member states, city and regional governments, and urban and climate change practitioners. It aimed to inspire the next frontier of research focused on the science of cities and climate change, identifying gaps and priority topics in climate science at the local level and stimulating scientific research at the nexus of cities and climate change. 

The insights from more than 700 scientists, leaders, policymakers, practitioners, innovators, and influencers who attended this landmark event informed the development of the primary output of the conference, the Global Research and Action Agenda on Cities and Climate Change Science (GRAA). The GRAA, serving as a critical framework for advancing scientific research and practical actions related to urban climate challenges, was presented at the 48th IPCC Plenary in Incheon, Republic of Korea, in 2018. 

Building on the 2018 event and leveraging the momentum of the previous collaborations, the Innovate4Cities 2021 Conference, also co-sponsored by the IPCC, gathered close to 7000 participants worldwide to foster dialogue at the confluence of urban development, climate science, and innovation. 

The wealth of insights gleaned from numerous presentations and discussions at the conference contributed to the refinement and update of the GRAA, culminating in the release of Findings from Innovate4Cities 2021. This comprehensive document encapsulates the research findings, policy dialogues, public discussions, recommendations, and identified research gaps, serving as a pivotal resource for the ongoing global research and action agenda on cities and climate change science. 

Another notable milestone was the International Co-Sponsored Meeting on Culture, Heritage, and Climate Change (ICSM CHC), jointly sponsored by the IPCC, UNESCO, and ICOMOS. This pioneering event, held virtually in December 2021, brought together more than 100 scientists, policymakers, practitioners, and traditional knowledge holders to explore the nexus between culture, heritage, and climate change. The main scientific result, the Global Research and Action Agenda on Culture, Heritage, and Climate Change, provides a roadmap for integrating culture and heritage into climate science, with a special focus on cities, and encourages interdisciplinary collaboration.

Regarding other significant instances outside IPCC processes or co-sponsored events where urban practitioners engaged with climate science, one notable example is the development of the Summary for Urban Policymakers: What the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C Means for Cities

This summary, crafted by some authors of the pivotal Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR1.5) with input from selected urban practitioners and city officials, provides a concise yet comprehensive overview of SR1.5’s implications for cities and urban areas in the context of global warming. The document aims to make science more accessible to urban policymakers and ensure the alignment of urban strategies with the target of keeping the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

Another distinguished example of these efforts is the development of the Summary for Urban Policymakers (SUP) three-volume series. Authored by several IPCC report authors acting in their personal capacities independent of their official IPCC roles, these reports were crafted in consultation with selected cities across various regions. They streamline the most pertinent climate science for urban stakeholders from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Reports (AR6). The SUP series delivers the latest climate science in clear, actionable messages, illustrating how local governments and business leaders can significantly enhance and broaden climate action on a global scale.

2024 is a watershed year for fostering city-practitioner and scientific partnerships

While the previously-mentioned milestones and knowledge products represented significant collaborative efforts between urban practitioners and scientists in recent years, the IPCC Bureau’s inclusion of urban practitioners in the scoping meeting for the SRCC signifies a notable advance towards an era of collaboration, blending scientific and urban expertise to enrich climate science and support cities globally. 

This presents an unparalleled opportunity for the community of urban practitioners and policymakers to engage with the IPCC process through emerging pathways. The goal is to ensure the SRCC becomes genuinely policy-relevant for cities and subnational governments worldwide. Acknowledging the long history of engagement between urban practitioners and climate science, it is crucial for the urban practitioners’ community to align with the strategic vision of the new IPCC Bureau and engage meaningfully in the SRCC development process, offering complementary perspectives where appropriate.

In 2024, several events hold the potential to be leveraged for bringing more visibility to the SRCC within the community of urban practitioners and subnational governments. Notably, in June 2024, Daring Cities, convened by ICLEI and the Federal City of Bonn, concurrent with the Bonn Climate Talks, is a global initiative for urban leaders taking on the climate emergency. The 2024 edition of Daring Cities aims to serve as a pivotal platform for advancing multilevel and collective climate action and holds the potential to bring more visibility to the IPCC SRCC and make connections that are relevant to the development process for the report. 

Later in the month, ICLEI’s network will gather for the ICLEI World Congress 2024 in São Paulo, Brazil. On the first day of this four-day event, ICLEI’s Global Research & Innovation Symposium will offer cities and subnational governments an unparalleled chance to gain insights from leading IPCC experts on the objectives and potential scope of the SRCC. 

Later in the year, the 2024 Innovate4Cities Conference (I4C24) will convene leaders from cities, academia, civil society, and industry to spur discussions at the intersection of urban development and climate change science and progress on innovative cross-sector solutions that address critical sustainability gaps. In anticipation of the SRCC, the 2024 Innovate4Cities Conference is another key opportunity to elevate the latest science, reflect on progress since the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, and highlight collaboration pathways across sectors.

ICLEI has a longstanding commitment to supporting the critical work of the IPCC. As we approach the development of the first special report dedicated to climate change and cities, ICLEI, leveraging its role as an accredited observer to the IPCC and its status as the premier global network of cities and subnational governments, is poised to harness its extensive network, resources, and expertise. Our aim is to ensure that urban practitioners, local policymakers, and our partner organizations can contribute effectively to the development of the IPCC SRCC, responding adeptly to any engagement opportunities the IPCC Bureau may propose throughout the Seventh Assessment cycle. 

The IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Cities is more than just a document; it marks the dawn of a new chapter in our global narrative. As the world watches, cities have the opportunity to lead by example, demonstrating that the collective will of urban communities can indeed turn the tide in the battle against climate change. The development of this report signifies the beginning of an era in which cities take center stage, crafting a world that not only survives but thrives by meeting human needs in harmony with nature. The forthcoming IPCC SRCC report could be the beacon that lights our way forward.