The second and third sections of the IPCC’s latest comprehensive review of climate science present new knowledge about the implications and risks of climate change, as well as advances in adaptation and mitigation strategies. For Rupa Mukerji, lead author of the latest IPCC report, ‘climate actions are taken in all parts of the world, but are somewhat inadequate to deal with the current warming that we are experiencing'. With the contribution of thousands of scientists, the report creates momentum for those pushing the transition forward to rethink and redirect their efforts to make climate action as effective as possible.
In this article, we review the latest science on cities and urban systems and present our key take-aways from the (IPCC) AR6 climate change 2022 report.
Why are urban areas important to global climate change mitigation and adaptation ?
Cities are facing incredible pressures to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies, while at the same time having to cope with a current megatrend of global urbanization. With an additional 2.5 billion people expected to live in cities, urban areas will be home to more than two-thirds of the world’s population by 2050. Unequivocally, cities are increasingly becoming hotspots for climate risk, but also critical battlegrounds for climate action.
“The exciting message with cities is that it’s not too late to do something (...) a lot of those cities have not been built yet. The world is adding a new city of 1 million every 10 days, the pace of development is very high, but there’s still a lot that can be done,” says Karen Seto, one of two coordinating authors of the urban mitigation chapter of the report and Professor of Geography and Urbanization Science at Yale School of Environment.
The report sheds light on the time-limited opportunity cities have to develop integrated forms of governance and planning and scale-up action. The current decade is pivotal for cities to advance sustainable and resilient urban development. However, lots of barriers remain, in ‘the lack of political will and management capacity, limited financial means and mechanisms and competing priorities’. With urban areas generating between 71–76% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use and between 67–76 % of global energy, mitigation strategies must focus first and foremost on urban systems as the key drivers of emissions.
How can cities better align their efforts to advance climate action ? What does the science suggest for cities to tackle remaining barriers?
The report identifies three main focus areas for cities to maximize the mitigation of their carbon emissions:
The reduction of urban energy consumption across all sectors,
the electrification of the urban energy system, and;
urban green and blue infrastructure as a way to encourage carbon sequestration.
These strategies need to be integrated across sectors, geographic scales and levels of governance, and implemented at a city-scale.
There is a need for an “overarching systems approach to understanding how sectors interact in cities as drivers for GHG emissions”. City-scale strategies make emission reduction more effective, more so than the separated implementation of single strategies. An example of this would be to “replace, repurpose or retrofit building stock” in “established cities” in order to achieve large emissions savings. Policy packages are a means to facilitate those urban-scale interventions, generate cascading effects across different sectors and increase emissions reductions both within and outside of a city’s administrative area.
To deliver city-wide sustainability, climate and urban planners need to consider integrated forms of planning that transcend work in silos. To achieve that, the report puts forward the Climate Resilient Development framework. It provides a blueprint for cities and actors alike to bring together adaptation strategies with mitigation actions and, in turn, better connect climate compatible development with SDGs.
Concretely, there is a need to plan interventions and monitor the effectiveness of outcomes beyond individual projects. The framework provides an avenue to deliver triple-win solutions that address all three issues of mitigation, adaptation, and development. For instance, actions in favor of a modal shift towards walking, cycling and low-emissions public transport can help reduce the use of private motor vehicles, thus lowering emissions while also promoting public health benefits.
Beyond their obvious benefits, multiple-win solutions have a clear advantage from an organizational point of view. Being able to clearly demonstrate the co-benefits of different solutions is invaluable when it comes to getting buy-in, support and the investment needed to actually implement these solutions. The more these solutions and their impacts can be demonstrated, the more will investors and city stakeholders be willing to get involved, fund and champion the actions, thereby translating planned solutions into action.
Though many more cities have established adaptation plans since the previous IPCC report, a very limited number of these have been implemented. The focus remains on climate risk reduction, which hardly allows cities to unlock synergies between adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development.
Transforming urban planning into action is an opportunity to advance co-benefits between mitigation, adaptation, and SDGs. But to do so, planning and governance of urban areas need to be made more integrated in the first place. By including both mitigation and adaptation into their climate strategy, cities can decarbonize urban areas while directing investments towards ecological, social, and technological infrastructure resilience. This calls for a clearly communicated roadmap for all actors across the city to collaborate and to see where they can intersect and work productively to make synergies happen, or fill in unaddressed gaps.
As we just said, prospects for effective climate action are enhanced when governments include different stakeholders in planning and decision-making processes. The same applies when partnerships are formed with traditionally marginalized groups. For instance, integrating more indigenous knowledge in urban planning and management could help ‘generating more people-oriented and space-specific approaches leading to adaptation or mitigation policies that better address behavioral patterns, foster identity, dignity, self-determination, and better collective decision-making and capacity to act’. Still, the report underscores the considerable barriers that remain to incorporating indigenous knowledge into the planning process, as well as the role scientists and urban planners play in favoring constructive dialogue with such groups.
Innovation coming from the private sector can bridge the need for better services and tools to advance climate action and implementation: ‘public-private partnerships are increasingly relevant for collaborative development of urban adaptation (...), they can deliver infrastructure, coordinate policy, and support learning.’ However, norms within public and private organizations diverge. To some extent, this can hinder horizontal collaboration in urban adaptation agendas. The report calls for reconciling administrative and political cultures to enable more effective partnerships between public and private sectors.
Since day one at ClimateView, we stand for integrated, collaborative, and inclusive climate planning. We firmly believe that public-private partnerships are key to moving forward in the journey ahead. This vision has been materialized in the many projects we have co-created. Our collaborative project with the city of Malmö is the most recent example of that.It’s great to see our ethos aligning with the state of science in so many different ways.