Urban ARK at IPCC Cities and Climate Change Conference, Edmonton

Mark Pelling - Principal Investigator's picture

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change held a global conference on Cities and Climate Change in Edmonton, 5-7 March 2018.  This was a high-level opportunity for exchange between city majors and planners, climate scientists and urban researchers to map out some priorities for the IPCC as it commences planning for the 6th Assessment Review.

Several Urban ARK partners contributed to this event, including Mark Pelling (KCL and Urban ARK PI) David Dodman (IIED) (who sat on the organising committee) Hayley Leck (KCL) Lorena Pasquini and Jessica Lee (UCT), Shuaib Lwasa (Makerere University) and Mark Ojal (Nairobi Risk Partnership). The team helped to emphasise the importance and specific needs and opportunities offered by cities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mark Pelling presented a short statement as part of a plenary on science-policy interactions, the transcript for this is presented below:

In response to discussions on the relationship between science, policy and practice  Mark made  four key points: three on the role for science in catalysing impact, and a final challenge for city actors.

“In terms of the science-policy/practice interface I see three ways in which the research community can enhance its contribution which require some reflection by researchers and their city partners. I also appreciate many in the room will have greater experience than I and have resolved these issues many times over, but still:

Building the evidence base. This is business as usual for research; it allows science to provide technical input to guide policy and practice, to provide baselines in advance of development change. Building the evidence base provides understanding and advocacy leverage for actors. A challenge is to find a balance between knowledge to support existing policy trajectories and knowledge that can support transitions. Academics are under pressure to show their work is useful and this is most clearly done when it is coupled to the processes and activities of ongoing city action – much less easy when the data presents the city or highlights issues for which there is no existing policy champion (eg everyday hazards and risk – at the boundary of public health, civil defence and land-use planning). Should researchers then be active in shaping demand and ownership through research, in other words interacting purposefully on urban governance?

Science as a convening tool.  Science has many languages – from the scientific rationality of climate modelling to interpretive and experiential methodologies associated more with the arts and humanities applied to community risk assessments. Each approach, when deployed transparently - which probably means coproducing work – has the power to bring competing actors together, to share a language and see each other’s positions more clearly. For example, where climate downscaling or scenarios for city scale use bring different actors together to plan. A challenge is that the convening has to be owned by a policy/practice actor, this requires close working relationships with researchers and an ability for researchers to let go of their work.     

Opening spaces for critical reflection. Typically, this would include tools like community or city resilience action planning. Deploying tools that have the primary aim of allowing actors to generate data to better understand and act on their own priorities. This also includes scenario and futures methodologies. The Challenge for researchers is that practice here is more important than the data produced, data needs only to be good enough to allow a conversation. This is especially difficult in interdisciplinary work where different science traditions have different levels of tolerance for what is good enough.   

Finally, a challenge for city actors and research funders: It seems an opportunity is being missed for city led strategic ownership of research. This arises from the rapid growth in funding for research on climate change and resilience in cities. Individual projects we can assume are excellent and have specific impact plans, but there is rarely a mechanism for city actors to be made aware of all the research being undertaken and planned in a city, and certainly little opportunity to feed into discussion to identify the strategic positioning of research and aggregate impact. This opportunity requires investment from cities and a relationship to be built with international science funders. There are challenges, such a relationship should not impact on scientific freedom and can only be considered one voice in representing the city. These challenges will be greatest in smaller and medium sized cities where most growth and so risk is being accumulated but where there is least capacity for strategic engagement with science. Thank you.”

More information on the IPCC Cities and Climate Change conference can be found here: https://citiesipcc.org