Systematizing and upscaling urban solutions for climate change mitigation (SUUCCM)

International Conference: September 13-14, 2018 in Berlin


The international climate community puts increasing hope into climate solutions at urban scale. Research also increasingly emphasizes the role of cities in climate change mitigation. A main trope of research has been identification of climate action in specific cities, through case studies. These empirically-grounded and bottom-up insights contrast with a dominant strand in climate mitigation research that makes use of global models to explore long-term low-carbon futures, where local solutions can often be minimally represented. The time is ripe to put the scientific investigations on urban climate solutions on more systematic foundations by structuring insights on causal interventions and processes across different time scales, individual behavior and policy choices, and by upscaling urban solutions to a global scale, by typologies or otherwise.

Urban greenhouse gas emissions originate mostly from buildings and transport, and indirectly from the consumption of goods. Obvious intervention points are the land use system, modal shift, and building codes. But a systems approach is needed in finding urban climate solutions- instead of simply adding marginal options, but build on a comprehensive understanding of urban systems, i.e. across different structure, function, processes and actors (Bai et al 2016). Such a comprehensive understanding would not only foster a more causal approach and systems understanding, but also would help designing urban transitions into low-carbon futures. Specific system-relevant issues include cross-sectoral and strategic issues such as the transport/land-use system that is coupled on various temporal and spatial scales; the interaction between technologies and behavior; and the normative implications of low-carbon urban system solutions. Emerging from all these issues, we can then pose the question of urban-scale transition towards low-carbon and sustainable futures. 

A big issue is that the coupled transport-land-use system and their components, such as buildings, are deeply intertwined with complex individual and social action and beliefs. Additionally, data quality is often poor, and results are not scalable due to idiosyncratic differences between cities. Yet, there is scope to improve and systematize research on urban climate solutions on several intertwined fronts, summarized in the figure below. 

  • Infrastructures. The causality in transport/land-use interactions and its implications for urban climate solutions are perplexing and require further insights. This can for example be achieved by merging data analysis of urban GHG emissions with urban economic causal models (Creutzig 2014, Viguié 2015) or by high-resolution agent-based models (Echenique et al 2012). Another important area of research is dynamic adaptive planning to avoid path dependence and, more specifically, carbon lock-in (Haasnoot et al 2013, Seto et al 2016). 
  • Behavior. User behavior and lifestyles, including issues like habit formation, endogenous preferences, time-inconsistent preferences, etc., have important implications for greenhouse gas emissions in urban transport and buildings sectors (Creutzig et al 2016, Mattauch et al 2016). 
  • Technology. Electric two-wheelers and cars, automated vehicles, and the internet of things will dramatically change the urban user environment. Research could explore scenarios, opportunities for public policy, and how new technologies interact with behavior. 
  • Big data. Making use of big data to locate solutions at micro-scale, scaled up to city-level. Examples include making use of remote sensing data hybridized with other data sources, e.g. from the WUDAPT platform, to identify building-scale solutions; and making use of data from flexibility mobility platform to improve efficiency of mobility systems. 
  • Well-being. New infrastructures, technologies, and a changing way of life have profound effects on well-being. It is paramount to fully estimate these effects. However, consistent efforts to do so remain sparse.  
  • Policies, governance, transition. Finally, it is crucial to explore how to link the specific perspectives and explore transition pathways towards low-carbon cities. This can make use of insights from sustainability experiments, innovation and transition studies (Bulkeley et al 2010, Peng and Bai 2018), but also from heterodox economics, human geography, and political sciences.  



We invite contributions that aim to address these and related themes. We are specifically interested in papers that demonstrate the feasibility to upscale urban climate solutions beyond individual cities, identifying archetypes and typologies of urban solutions. 

We target this focus issue to inform systematic assessment of urban climate solutions, such as those of the IPCC. Importantly, we design the upscaling of approaches as to provide a platform that ultimately helps decision makers in cities that are grappling with these urban concerns. 

Contributors are encouraged to submit high quality contributions to a focus issue in Environmental Research Letters with identical title: “Systematizing and upscaling urban solutions for climate change mitigation”. Ideally full papers are discussed at the conference and, having considered feedback and having interacted with other conference contributions, are subsequently submitted to Environmental Research Letters. 

The conference is organized by the MCC Berlin, and co-sponsored by Future Earth, the Global Carbon Project, the University of Oxford, and CIRED. Participation in the conference is desirable but not required for submitting a contribution to the focal issue. 



Bai X, Surveyer A, Elmqvist T, Gatzweiler F W, Güneralp B, Parnell S, Prieur-Richard A-H, Shrivastava P, Siri J G and Stafford-Smith M 2016 Defining and advancing a systems approach for sustainable cities Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 23 69–78

Bulkeley H, Castán-Broto V and Maassen A 2010 Governing urban low carbon transitions Cities Low Carbon Transit. 29–31

Creutzig F 2014 How fuel prices determine public transport infrastructure, modal shares and urban form Urban Clim. 10 63–76

Creutzig F, Fernandez B, Haberl H, Khosla R, Mulugetta Y and Seto K C 2016 Beyond Technology: Demand-Side Solutions to Climate Change Mitigation Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 41 null

Echenique M H, Hargreaves A J, Mitchell G and Namdeo A 2012 Growing Cities Sustainably J. Am. Plann. Assoc. 78 121–37

Haasnoot M, Kwakkel J H, Walker W E and ter Maat J 2013 Dynamic adaptive policy pathways: A method for crafting robust decisions for a deeply uncertain world Glob. Environ. Change 23 485–498

Mattauch L, Ridgway M and Creutzig F 2016 Happy or liberal? Making sense of behavior in transport policy design Transp. Res. Part Transp. Environ. 45 64–83

Peng Y and Bai X 2018 Experimenting towards a low-carbon city: Policy evolution and nested structure of innovation J. Clean. Prod. 174 201–212

Seto K C, Davis S J, Mitchell R B, Stokes E C, Unruh G and Ürge-Vorsatz D 2016 Carbon lock-in: Types, causes, and policy implications Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 41 425–452

Viguié V 2015 Cross-commuting and housing prices in a polycentric modeling of cities (FAERE-French Association of Environmental and Resource Economists)