Climate change knowledge for an urbanized planet: UCCRN

The people behind the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN) are passionate about delivering climate science to cities, with over 100 citations in the latest IPCC report. So who are they?

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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.)

[pullquote align=”right”]UCCRN provides an expert knowledge base for city action across the globe.[/pullquote]

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.

[pullquote align=”left”]In many cases, city governments are able to act more quickly than states.[/pullquote]

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