Urban Practitioners Invited To Help Scope IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Cities
The scoping meeting for the upcoming Special Report was held in Riga, Latvia, pictured above, in April 2024. Photo: Ariel Dekovic/Shutterstock

At the 43rd session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016, the Panel decided to include a Special Report on Climate Change and Cities in the IPCC’s 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 Special Report 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. This Special Report, the only special report to be prepared under the IPCC’s seventh assessment cycle, will not just serve as an analysis but will also set the stage for the Seventh Assessment Report and spotlight cities’ pivotal role in international climate discourse.

This Special Report’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 invited the IPCC to contribute to the Global Stocktake 2.0, scheduled to conclude in 2028. In light of this, it is expected that IPCC’s insights, particularly from the Special Report as the first product to be prepared under the seventh assessment cycle, will play a crucial role in shaping policies and actions related to climate challenges in urban contexts.

Based on the significant decisions made regarding the IPCC’s strategic roadmap for the seventh assessment cycle at the IPCC 60th Session in Istanbul, Turkey, in January 2024, the Special Report is expected to be complete in 2027. As part of the development process, in the fourth quarter of 2023, the IPCC initiated a crucial step by inviting nominations for the Special Report’s scoping meeting. This call for nominations was extended to both member governments and accredited observer organizations. Once the nomination call 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, 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 has underscored the new leadership’s commitment to promoting a collaborative approach between scientists and the urban practitioner 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 Special Report. The outcomes of the scoping meeting will be presented to the 61st session of the IPCC, planned for July 2024 in Sofia, Bulgaria. During this session, the Panel will review, discuss and consider ratifying and approving the Special Report’s scope and framework.

As the longest-established global network of local and regional governments, ICLEI 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. This document, which serves 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, South 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 Global Research and Action Agenda on Cities and Climate Change Science, 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, jointly sponsored by the IPCC, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites. 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 provides a concise yet comprehensive overview of 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 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

Another distinguished example of these efforts is the development of the Summary for Urban Policymakers series. Authored by several IPCC report authors acting in their personal capacities, this series of reports were crafted in consultation with selected cities across various regions. They streamline the most pertinent climate science for urban stakeholders from the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report. The 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 Special Report on Climate Change and Cities 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 Special Report 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 Special Report development process, offering complementary perspectives where appropriate.

In 2024, several events hold the potential to be leveraged for bringing more visibility to the Special Report within the community of urban practitioners and subnational governments. 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 Special Report and make connections relevant to its development process. ICLEI’s network will also gather for the ICLEI World Congress 2024 in São Paulo, Brazil, offering cities and subnational governments a chance to gain insights from leading IPCC experts on the objectives and potential scope of the Special Report.

Later in the year, the 2024 Innovate4Cities Conference will convene leaders from cities, academia, civil society and industry to spur discussions at the intersection of urban development, climate change science and progress on innovative cross-sector solutions that address critical sustainability gaps. In anticipation of the Special Report, this 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.

As we approach the development of the first special report dedicated to climate change and cities, ICLEI’s aim is to ensure that urban practitioners, local policymakers and partner organizations can contribute effectively to the development of the Special Report, 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 will be 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 Special Report could be the beacon that lights our way forward.

A version of this article originally appeared on ICLEI’s CityTalk.

Pourya Salehi is Head of Urban Research, Innovation and Development for ICLEI.

Ariel Dekovic is Head of Global Communications for ICLEI.

Yunus Arikan is Director of Global Advocacy for ICLEI.

Maryke van Staden is Director of Business Development and the Bonn Center for Local Climate Action and Reporting for ICLEI.

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