7 March 2018: A conference that aimed to foster new scientific knowledge for cities agreed to a global research agenda to better understand the impacts of climate change on cities, and the critical role local authorities play in addressing the climate challenge. UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, US, as the UN Special Envoy for Climate Action.

The Cities and Climate Change Science Conference (CitiesIPCC Conference) convened from 5-7 March 2018, in Edmonton, Canada. It brought together the science, policy and practice communities to help determine current and future sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and pathways for cities to pursue emissions reduction and resilience strategies. The conference also focused on implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), all of which require cities for successful sustainable development plans to adapt and respond to climate change.

More specifically, the conference sought to take stock of scientific literature, data and other sources of knowledge on cities and climate change since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), and to build ongoing work under AR6 to be completed in 2022. It aimed to identify gaps to stimulate new research to be assessed by an IPCC special report on climate change and cities during the IPCC’s seventh assessment cycle, and develop assessment frameworks that consider the systemic linkages, synergies and trade-offs between urban systems and climate change.

Participants highlighted the need to strengthen the social sciences to better understand complex issues, such as the role of informal settlements in addressing climate change.

Conference sessions were organized around four themes that were discussed in plenary and parallel sessions. On cities and climate change (imperatives for action), take away messages included the need for: an integrated framework across the various global agendas to help cities respond to climate change; catalyzing sustainable consumption, production and circular economics; the informal sector to have a voice; and balance between bottom-up and top-down approaches.

Discussions on urban emissions, impacts and vulnerabilities (science and practice of cities) highlighted that feedback loops between research and practice can address knowledge gaps, and that multidisciplinary data will enable more accurate observation to design responses.

On solutions for the transition to low carbon and climate resilient cities (science and practice for cities), discussions focused on: exploring opportunities and risks from new and old technologies; monitoring, evaluating, learning and accountability; and linking action beyond urban boundaries.

On enabling transformative climate action in cities (advancing science and advancing cities), discussion topics included: informal settlements and economies; urban perspectives on climate adaptation finance; youth voices and climate change knowledge; supporting implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in urban areas and vertical integration of climate actions; and finance for climate action in cities.

During the conference, participants considered how science can partner with policy and practice to transform cities into climate-smart, equitable and sustainable homes for all. Speakers underscored the need for: solution-oriented knowledge; strengthening the social sciences to better understand complex issues, such as the role of informal settlements in addressing climate change; and research that focuses on issues of equity, power distribution, integration of values, and human behavior to create real transformative changes in cities.

Other key points emerging during the conference included: the limited availability, quality and accessibility of city-level data on GHG emissions; the limited literature on climate change regarding cities in developing countries; the special challenge to assessment presented by the informal sector; and limited and fragmented understanding of policy and governance systems.

In addition to a future global research agenda, the main outcomes of the conference included: proceedings that will be peer reviewed and referenced by future IPCC reports; translation of IPCC reports for different audiences; and a “live” website and email to continue communication. The findings from the thematic sessions will feed into publications to be assessed in AR6 and the IPCC special report on cities and climate change.

The IPCC approved the proposal for the conference at its 44th session in October 2016. It was organized by, among others, the IPCC, UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), C40, Cities Alliance, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, Future Earth, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). [UNFCCC Press Release] [UNEP Press Release] [Conference Website] [IISD RS Coverage of the CitiesIPCC Conference] [Cities IPCC Bulletin by IISD] [Cities and Regions Talanoa Dialogue] [UN Press Release] [WMO Press Release on CitiesIPCC Conference]

The CitiesIPCC Conference took place against the backdrop of extreme weather conditions marked by exceptionally high temperatures in the Arctic, and an extended cold wave and heavy precipitation in Europe. “Warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are believed to affect ocean circulation and the jet stream, and are potentially linked to extreme phenomena such as cold spells in the northern hemisphere,” said World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement. [WMO Press Release on Arctic Warmth]

In related news, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, US, UN Special Envoy for Climate Action. Bloomberg, who previously served as UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, will support the Secretary-General’s climate strategy and efforts towards the 2019 Climate Summit, which will mobilize stronger and more ambitious action towards the 2020 climate targets. [UN Press Release on Michael Bloomberg’s Appointment] [Remarks by Newly Appointed Special Envoy for Climate Change Bloomberg]