Our global environment is changing and humanity is at the center of these changes. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities – a trend expected to continue – we've moved into the Century of the City where urbanization will continue to be a defining social, economic, and environmental characteristic of this new centennial. Despite the fact that cities have been loci for a number of environmental problems such as air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, clean water accessibility, etc., cities are also centers of innovation, education and offer better accessibility to services such as health care and economic opportunities. With the majority of future growth expected to take place in smaller to medium-sized cities, particularly in the developing world, a central question is: How can we capture the benefits and opportunities of urbanization, whilst mitigating the negative effects, in order to sustainably transform our urban future?
Moreover, it has become increasingly clear that successful solutions to today’s grand sustainability challenges require collaborative approaches from a diverse group of researchers, funders, practitioners, policy-makers and other stakeholders. This is precisely the impetus for the Science and Technology Alliance for Global Sustainability-led restructuring of the research framework and organization of the Global Environmental Change Programmes and Projects. Underpinned by three overarching themes, research under ‘Future Earth’ will continue to focus on the dynamics of the Earth system, sustaining our planet’s resources, and understanding processes of transformation and developing strategies for sustainability.
Cities are a critical component in this process towards global sustainability, the agenda of ‘Future Earth’ and international policy communities. Over the last ten years, research in the field of urbanization and global environmental change (UGEC) has expanded our knowledge and understanding of the interactions and feedbacks between urbanization processes and global environmental change at local to global scales.
The aim of the 2nd International UGEC Conference on ‘Urban transitions and transformations: Science, synthesis and policy’ is two-fold:
- Synthesize our knowledge of the bidirectional interactions between urbanization and global environmental changes, and to reflect on the key lessons learned.
- Identify transformative pathways for a future urban world that is increasingly complex and uncertain.
The study and understanding of current urban transitions and transformations requires multidimensional approaches that explore human behavior including lifestyle changes, political and economic agendas, and the adequacy of governance structures to deliver urban sustainability – particularly in a time of uncertainty where biophysical tipping points and thresholds have the potential to curb human progress and well-being. In order to facilitate this analysis, the conference has been divided into four integrative themes that are intended to bring together perspectives from across the social and natural sciences, and humanities to better understand urban environmental issues in a more integrated, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary way.