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2018 conference first to put cities at heart of climate science

Event will mark ‘policy, science and practice evolving together’, expert says.

Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

The science of cities is poised to take on a new dimension with the announcement of a global conference that will, for the first time, seek to place urban areas directly at the centre of climate change research.

The Cities and Climate Change Science Conference will seek to refine and enhance the scientific literature on the role of cities in the fight against global climate change. Anticipated for early 2018, the conference is currently seeking a host city, with the bidding open until 15 January.

A green light for such a gathering came last month during a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the group tasked with keeping track of the science on global warming. The IPCC decision, in Bangkok, came the same day as the U. N. adopted a 20-year strategy on sustainable cities, the New Urban Agenda, halfway around the world in Quito at the conclusion of the Habitat III conference.

[See: We’re entering a ‘new era’ for cities and science]

Advocates for bolstered science on the role of cities in the climate change debate see this coincidence as important. They hope a scientifically informed viewpoint will better enable national governments, mayors, policymakers and other actors to make smart decisions in the coming decades to deliver on their commitments to the U. N.’s trio of global agreements that deal directly with cities: in addition to the New Urban Agenda, these include the  Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals, both of which were finalized last year.

The request for proposals to host the 2018 conference was released 10 November on the sidelines of the COP 22” climate change meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, where the international community is discussing implementation of last year’s Paris Agreement.

[See: Platform needed to provide scientific input on New Urban Agenda implementation, researchers say]

“In the next 20 to 50 years, all big developmental decisions will be made in cities, so we need the global scientific debate to reflect more deeply on the finer, more nuanced scale of cities,” Debra Roberts, IPCC vice-chair and chief resilience officer of eThekwini municipality in Durban, said during the Bangkok meeting that announced the new endeavor. “The 2018 conference on climate change science and cities will be an exciting process of policy, science and practice evolving together.”

Bending the curve

So how will the 2018 conference be structured? According to the call for proposals, the event will gather up to 300 leading scientists, urbanists, local officials and climate activists who will seek to identify research gaps and strategies for future collaboration.

The conference’s results also will feed into a larger process toward a landmark special report on cities and climate change that the IPCC will prepare during its five-year work programme starting in 2023.

[See: Cities to receive new, ongoing focus in official climate research]

While this decade-plus timeline sounds far in the future, Roberts believes that the long-term vision is vital. “We are entering a new era for cities,” she said. “Cities are the real opportunity to bend the curve. Whether it’s on ambitious adaptation or mitigation action, they are the location where the action materializes, where the decisions on resource flows are made.”

Already, cities have taken a leading role in the climate change debate, and are receiving significant focus at the Marrakech meetings, which run through this week.

On Monday, local leaders from 7,100 cities met at COP 22 to highlight their contributions through the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. That initiative, which brings together pledges from municipalities around the world, claims to be on track to reduce carbon emissions by 254 megatons before 2020, the same year that the Paris Agreement’s targets go into effect for national governments. If they meet this target, the city signatories will have reduced their emissions by 27 percent since 2010, according to a new report.

Still, continuing that progress will still require a concerted effort from national governments and international institutions. The World Bank cautions that USD 90 trillion is needed to finance the climate-friendly infrastructure needed to continue on a low-carbon path. Climate finance is a major focus of the COP 22 talks in Marrakech, including how that funding can be directed to cities.

[See: What effect could President Trump have on U. S. cities’ climate action?]

For the 2018 conference, meanwhile, the host city will be expected to cover much of the cost to host the event as well as to secure support from its national government. Preference will be given to cities in the Global South.

Preparation will be coordinated by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. C40 is part of a larger constellation of advocates — including Cities Alliance, ICLEI, Future Earth, the U. N.’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network, United Cities and Local Governments, UN-Habitat, the UN Environment Programme and the World Climate Research Programme — that have coalesced under the umbrella #CitiesIPCC.

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