Climate change knowledge for an urbanized planet: UCCRN

Dhaka, Bangladesh, is one of the cities (including New York) advised by scientists at the Urban Climate Change Research Network (Photo: Wikipedia)

Dhaka, Bangladesh is one of the cities (includ­ing New York) advised by sci­en­tists at the Urban Cli­mate Change Research Net­work. Pho­to: Wikipedia

The peo­ple behind the Urban Cli­mate Change Research Net­work (UCCRN) are pas­sion­ate about deliv­er­ing cli­mate sci­ence to cities. Given that their research team was cit­ed over 100 times in the Unit­ed Nation’s lat­est Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) report, they’re clear­ly mak­ing an impact. So who are they?

Two con­trib­u­tors to the IPCC reports, Cyn­thia Rosen­zweig and William Solecki, direct the UCCRN. Dr. Rosen­zweig is a Senior Research Sci­en­tist at both NASA’s God­dard Insti­tute for Space Stud­ies and the Columbia Uni­ver­si­ty Earth Insti­tute, whose pre­vi­ous acco­lades include a Guggen­heim Fel­low­ship. Dr. Solecki is a Pro­fes­sor of Geog­ra­phy at Hunter Col­lege and Direc­tor of the CUNY Insti­tute for Sus­tain­able Cities, as well as a lead author of the IPCC 5th Assess­ment Report. (Dr. Solecki is also an advi­sor to City Atlas.)

UCCRN pro­vides an expert knowl­edge base for city action across the globe.

In 2007, at the time of the C40 Cities Cli­mate Sum­mit in New York City, the Co-Direc­tors of the UCCRN remarked on the fact that the IPCC Reports pri­mar­i­ly focus on regions, while giv­ing very lit­tle con­sid­er­a­tion to what will be an inte­gral part of any future cli­mate adap­ta­tion and mit­i­ga­tion plans: cities. The omis­sion is con­spic­u­ous due to the unpar­al­leled abil­i­ty of cities to act with regards to cli­mate change plan­ning and imple­men­ta­tion. In the Unit­ed States at least, this was evi­dent dur­ing May­or Bloomberg’s tenure, as he swift­ly put into motion pol­i­cy ini­tia­tives with momen­tum impos­si­ble at the fed­er­al or state lev­el. UCCRN’s idea was to cre­ate a plat­form to aid city action across the globe and provide the cli­mate sci­ence knowl­edge base to city lead­ers, stake­hold­ers, and deci­sion-mak­ers.

With this sim­ple idea, the UCCRN was born, and the Co-Direc­tors began to grow a net­work that today includes upwards of 550 aca­d­e­mics, stake­hold­ers, and prac­ti­tion­ers from around the globe. In 2011, the UCCRN released the First UCCRN Assess­ment Report on Cli­mate Change and Cities (ARC3), meant to be a com­ple­ment to the IPCC reports, with a focus on urban areas and pol­i­cy sug­ges­tions. ARC3 includes 46 case stud­ies from across 6 con­ti­nents. The com­pre­hen­sive report cov­ers top­ics relat­ed to cli­mate change, such as: ener­gy, water, trans­porta­tion, and human health, amongst oth­ers.

The UCCRN’s goal is to provide the sci­ence nec­es­sary for cities to account for poten­tial cli­mate change impacts, out­lin­ing what would need to be done to reduce emis­sions, as well as pre­pare for adap­ta­tions that may become nec­es­sary.

Cur­rent­ly, the UCCRN is prepar­ing to release the next iter­a­tion of ARC3, the Sec­ond UCCRN Assess­ment Report on Cli­mate Change and Cities (ARC3-2), with addi­tion­al sec­tions to include: urban plan­ning and design, ecosys­tems, hous­ing and infor­mal set­tle­ments, urban solid waste, eco­nom­ics and finance, and the pri­vate sec­tor. The group aims to launch the new report at COP21 Paris in Decem­ber 2015.

In many cas­es, city gov­ern­ments are able to act more quick­ly than states.

Apart from prepa­ra­tions for this release, UCCRN is also prepar­ing to set up hubs on each con­ti­nent, with Paris as the first out­post. The group also offers con­sul­ta­tive ser­vices to cities that are com­mit­ted to meet­ing cli­mate change head on. For exam­ple, they have recent­ly signed on to become the sci­ence knowl­edge provider to a group of cities signed on to the Dur­ban Adap­ta­tion Char­ter. They are also part­ner­ing with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions such as C40, ICLEI, WRI, and UN-Habi­tat, among oth­ers.

The UCCRN is increas­ing­ly rec­og­nized by aca­d­e­mics, prac­ti­tion­ers, and city lead­ers from around the world, but has still set its sights on even greater goals. Spend­ing time with Somayya Ali Ibrahim, the Pro­gram Man­ager at the UCCRN Sec­re­tari­at in New York City, it becomes clear that a prin­ci­pal obsta­cle to expand­ing their work is a lack of fund­ing. Her team is con­stant­ly jug­gling com­pet­ing projects and pri­or­i­ties in addi­tion to fundrais­ing for their net­work.

One of the issues is that UCCRN’s com­mit­ment to cities in devel­op­ing coun­tries leads to favor­ing benev­o­lence over the bot­tom line. Orga­ni­za­tions like this must spend sig­nif­i­cant time fundrais­ing to provide infor­ma­tion and assis­tance to cities that can’t afford to pay for their ser­vices. Instead of charg­ing for con­sul­ta­tion ser­vices to cities—something it cer­tain­ly could do—UCCRN approach­es the issue of cli­mate change action from an aca­d­e­mic stand­point, with research and knowl­edge dis­sem­i­na­tion as the ulti­mate goals.

But UCCRN con­tin­ues to increase its vis­i­bil­i­ty. As peo­ple come to real­ize the increas­ing­ly impor­tant role that cities play as eco­nom­ic engi­nes and first-respon­ders to cli­mate dis­as­ters, UCCRN emerges as a prin­ci­pal source of knowl­edge and exper­tise for city lead­ers and cit­i­zens.

Praise for the first report from the Urban Cli­mate Change Research Net­work:

The ARC3 project will help ensure that we not only cre­ate a green­er, greater New York for future gen­er­a­tions, but that we con­tin­ue to learn from the lessons of our coun­ter­parts across the world…”

Michael R. BloombergMay­or, New York City

The authors of this remark­able report…are at the cut­ting edge of glob­al sci­ence and policy…the work is a tri­umph, a must-read study for city plan­ners, may­ors, and man­agers around the world.”

Jef­frey D. Sachs, Direc­tor of the Earth Insti­tute at Columbia Uni­ver­si­ty and Spe­cial Advi­sor to UN Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-Moon on the Mil­len­ni­um Devel­op­ment Goals


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