Ground-breaking Cities and Climate Change Science Conference Inspires Research, Forges New Partnerships

The CitiesIPCC conference brought together scientists, city representatives, and urban practitioners for the first time to discuss cities and climate change. Cities Alliance was a partner and co-sponsor of the conference.
julie greenwalt ipcc
Cities Alliance Urban Specialist Julie Greenwalt addressing the CitiesIPCC.

The CitiesIPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference, held March 5-7 in Edmonton, Canada, was a breakthrough. It brought together scientists, city representatives, and urban practitioners to discuss cities and climate change and to inspire new research. The Cities Alliance was a partner and co-sponsor of the conference, ensuring that informality and the role of secondary cities were reflected throughout the event.

[29 March 2018] -- Amid temperatures reaching -20 degrees Celsius, scientists, policymakers, researchers and development experts gathered in Edmonton earlier this month for the ground-breaking CitiesIPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference.

For the first time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) co-sponsored an event that brought together these three communities to discuss the impact of climate change and how cities are contributing to the problem and the solution. The conference also aimed to inspire new research on the science of cities and climate change.

It was a roaring success on all fronts, with rich discussion and broad agreement on the need for a new science and city interface. Interest in the conference was strong, with thousands joining remotely from all over the world either through live streaming or Twitter. And the closing events were as packed as the opening ones, affirming the issue’s relevance.

The CitiesIPCC conference is part of a growing momentum towards recognising cities as agents of development. We often hear that cities are responsible for 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, but the science behind this claim has yet to be unpicked and sufficiently explored.As a partner and co-sponsor, Cities Alliance played an important role in building the partnership for the conference as well as organising and promoting the event.

On a substantive level, Cities Alliance strongly advocated addressing informality and urban poverty at the event. We also stressed the message that any global research agenda on cities and climate change must be inclusive of all types of cities, especially emphasising secondary cities and the growing cities of the global south, which were well represented.


Bringing informality and climate change into the discussion

Our message on informality and informal settlements as a necessary part of research and action moving forward was resoundingly heard. The view of informality as an important issue when addressing climate change in cities was visible throughout the conference and in all the plenary sessions.

“I was reassured by atmospheric and physical scientists clearly stating that informality will be front and centre of the global research agenda that is being developed,” said Cities Alliance Urban Environment Specialist Julie Greenwalt, the driving force behind our participation in CitiesIPCC and a plenary speaker at the event.

For Cities Alliance, the next step will be exploring how we can take this momentum forward, with further knowledge, research, awareness, action and policy on-the-ground that addresses the underlying issues that create large informal settlements.

Many questions require further study. For instance, when it comes to climate change mitigation, the poor currently have a low carbon footprint, but it increases as people move up the income ladder. How can we have low carbon development for moving people out of poverty? What does this mean for informal economies? What can cities and local communities do on this front? And what additional research is needed so that we are promoting the best policies and actions while meeting the challenge of climate change in the most vulnerable cities?

Cities Alliance will be looking at how we can address these issues through our thematic focus on climate change. There is space to think about how we can approach aspects that aren’t currently being explored in the climate change world, such as recognition of secondary cities, which have different needs and capacities, and what is realistic for cities.


An example of successful partnership with potential for more

CitiesIPCC was a great success in terms of partnership and collaboration, both among the organising partners and with the Scientific Steering Committee. For Cities Alliance, it was a good opportunity to provide a platform for our members and partners to engage at the global level, including C-MAP, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), United Cities and Local Governments Africa (UCLGA), UN Environment, UN-Habitat, and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO).

The question now is what happens to the CitiesIPCC partnership, and how to maintain the enthusiasm shown by partners. For example, one possibility could be a partnership that moves the research and action agenda forward and helps cities and countries develop the kinds of multi-stakeholder partnerships that create action and advance research.  Cities Alliance is excited about the momentum of CitiesIPCC and the potential for new programmes and partnerships.

“Edmonton clearly demonstrated the importance of bringing these different communities together, and that through these partnerships working together, we can stimulate research and action that can help build better cities that can address development goals and climate change challenges,” said Ms Greenwalt.


A conference that is moving the city agenda forward

CitiesIPCC was a working conference, with 49 sessions, seven plenaries and seven sessions led by the scientific steering committee over the course of three days. Participants shared their research and findings and identified research gaps that are being compiled into a research agenda on climate change that will feed into IPCC assessment reports.

In addition to members of the scientific community and urban practitioners, representatives from local governments, ministries, and private sector also joined the debate. There were 700 attendees from 65 countries, and more than 5,000 viewers from across the world subscribed to the event online.

A wide variety of subjects related to climate change and cities were tackled, the latest scientific research was shared, and many examples of city climate action from all over the world presented. The sessions addressed both climate change mitigation and adaptation topics, including global agendas, resilience and urban climate action.

A session that stole the show was one with high school students from around the world. The aim was to allow students to share and discuss the impacts and lessons of climate change in their homes, local communities, and urban centres, and then relay the ways in which they are uniquely adapting and responding to these challenges. They impressed the room full of academia and urban practitioners with their knowledge and determination.

Cities Alliance hosted a session with UN-Habitat on Informal Settlements and Economies: Means for Transformative Climate Action, in which the panel shared innovative practices and technological solutions from the informal sector. The session also provided examples of how transformative climate action rooted in the informal sector is critical for addressing poverty and inequality, and how people who live in informal settlements can re-shape the power relations to create the new vision for what a climate-compatible, equitable, resilient and inclusive city needs and should look like.

Partners of CitiesIPCC signed a joint statement committing themselves to promoting and implementing the research agenda coming out of the conference, stimulating research and production of knowledge about cities and climate change, encouraging science-based and evidence-based climate action in cities and creating and strengthening partnerships in this area (statement here:

CitiesIPCC was co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with nine partners: C40 Cities, Cities Alliance, Future Earth, ICLEI, 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).

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