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‘Cities have not received the attention that they deserve’: Q&A on CitiesIPCC

Photo: Flooding in Houston, Texas – Photo by Tom Fitzpatrick, FUGRO via Flickr (World Meteorological Organization) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Ahead of a major scientific conference on the future of research on cities and climate change, we sat down with ISSC World Social Science Fellow Aliyu Barau to find out more about the knowledge gaps on transforming towards lower-carbon, more resilient cities.

The CitiesIPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference aims to stimulate novel research on how cities can respond to climate change. The conference is organized by CitiesIPCC and takes place in Edmonton, Canada, from March 5-7, 2018. Dr Aliyu Barau, who is a member of the conference scientific steering committee, is a World Social Science Fellow (Sustainable Urbanisation) and currently teaches at the Department(s) of Geography and Urban and Regional Planning, Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.

This post also appears on the ISSC blog.

Q: Hi Aliyu. You’re part of the scientific steering committee for the Cities & Climate Change Science Conference taking place next week. Why has this conference been called now?

A: So far, a lot has been done by scientific and policy communities in addressing the challenges of global climate change. Saying this, I have in mind the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change which received a Nobel Prize some years ago, and the many rounds of talks – conferences of the parties or COPs. Indeed, the most recent landmark achievement is the 2015 Paris Agreement which sets new limits for reducing global carbon emissions to halt warming under 1.5°C. We have all seen an explosion in studies on the impacts of global climate change from both social and natural scientists in recent years.

However, cities have not received the priority and proper attention that they deserve. This is considering their role and huge potential in finding solutions to climate change. But cities are also major emissions hubs that induce global, local and regional climate change. Again, we have to note that cities currently account for 75% of carbon emissions from the energy sector. Also, we have to remember that more than half of the human race already resides in urban areas and this is likely to reach up to 70% by 2050.

Unfortunately, our cities are exposed to multiple risks as a result of a changing climate. It is difficult to count the losses of lives and assets following the extreme weather events around the world in the last year alone. There is an urgent need for interdisciplinary solutions, and they must be co-created by scientists, policymakers, citizens and urban practitioners. The core objective of the IPCC-led cities and climate change conference is therefore to seek solutions to strengthen adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change impacts on urban areas. In other words, the conference is timely but is definitely long overdue.

Q: The IPCC will publish a Special Report on Climate Change and Cities in the seventh assessment cycle (AR7). What are some of the key knowledge gaps that need to be addressed now? If a lot of gaps in knowledge are about lack of resources for monitoring or data collection, how can scientists help to mobilise additional support?

A: This is a very good question. Certainly, the seventh assessment cycle (AR7) is a backdrop to this conference, which aims to at least highlight those gaps where action is needed urgently. However, we – the members of the scientific steering committee for this conference – have outlined six research priorities which underline the major knowledge gaps that need to be filled. These gaps were identified based on our varied experiences and differences in geography and discipline. The six gaps include: informal settlements; quantity and quality of urban data and observations; climate and urban space interactions; the role of disruptive technologies, transformation dynamics and local-global urban sustainability interactions. Scientists, policymakers and other stakeholders need to work closely to critically understand these six gaps and their interactions in urban and changing climate contexts.

Q: What’s expected to result from the conference?

A: The aim is to establish a global research agenda that will substantially and appropriately inform the IPCC Special Report on Cities. Over 700 participants, from a very wide range of stakeholder and interest strata, will converge in Edmonton for that purpose. To start with, the IPCC is co-organizing the conference in collaboration with nine other organizations: Cities Alliance, Future Earth, ICLEI, SDSN, UCLG, UN-Habitat, UN Environment and WCRP, among others. The scientific steering committee is also diverse and it cuts across global geography. This suggests that the research agenda to emerge from this conference promises to be robust and sufficiently comprehensive. Principally, the conference also aims to strengthen collaboration and partnership between scientists, policymakers, urban practitioners, and international and regional agencies, in order to give cities a special focus, particularly in respect of issues relating to climate change. It also aims at producing scientific reports and peer-reviewed publications on the subject of cities and climate change.

Q: This is primarily a conference for scientists. Transformations at the city level often seem to come from civil society and configurations of other networks that may not be connected with the latest scientific research. Will their work be recognized at the conference? What about policy makers at the national and urban levels – will they be involved?

A: One unique thing about this conference is its overarching interest in the co-design and co-creation of its research agenda and outcome. We have been working for one year formulating the conference agenda, programme and many other activities. We decided to give various stakeholders a bold presence in the conference. There are multiple sessions organized by groups such as mayors, practitioners, indigenous communities, young and early career researchers, municipality networks and so on. Indeed, some of our committee co-chairs belong to such networks. Several policymakers are leading plenary sessions. We have recommended that some urban practitioners and policymakers from developing countries be funded to attend the conference. Our goodwill to work with policymakers and other stakeholders will go beyond the end of the conference. In short, the legitimacy and strength of our conference is its ability to accommodate all stakeholders in urban climate circles.

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