Conference Themes

Theme 1: Urbanization Patterns and Processes

Cities have undergone unprecedented social, cultural, economic, environmental and institutional transformations as their sizes, structures and functions change over time. We now have a better understanding of the teleconnected nature of urbanization and globalization processes, which blur the distinction between urban and hinterland areas, i.e., through flows of people, financial and natural resources, and land-use change processes that drive and respond to urbanization. In this sense, cities and their regions are connected to and dependent on other regions, even in other continents as well as being connected across different spatial and temporal scales. Furthermore, global environmental changes affect these local and regional human processes with implications for well-being, and shape the construction, form and function of the built environment.

Of the four themes which guide the UGEC project’s science and implementation, the ways in which urbanization affects global environmental change processes and conversely, the pathways though which global environmental change affects urbanization have been the most extensively researched over the last decade, contributing knowledge from numerous case studies across many world regions. The conference sessions that fall under Theme 1 are representative of this, as they explored these bi-directional interactions from a range of topic areas and disciplinary perspectives, not to exclude contributions of theoretical insights that seek to better understand urban areas as a dynamic system of globally networked socio-ecological processes.

These sessions provided insight to what we have learned about the driving forces responsible for transformation patterns and processes in cites, i.e., how and why urbanization today differs from urban processes in the past (i.e., as an outcome of decisions, actors and institutions), and the pathways through which specific types of global environmental change affect local and regional human processes and well-being, e.g., economic activities, livelihoods, urban life, migration patterns, social well-being and human health. 


Session 40: Urban land teleconnections: From concept to implementation

Keywords: indirect impacts, consumption, urban metabolism, migration, material flow trade


Session 52: Urban metabolism: The environmental impact of cities

Keywords: urbanization, land transformation, agriculture land change, agriculture production, impact mechanism


Session 53: Urbanization, agricultural land loss and food security

Keywords: urbanization, agriculture, food security, ecosystems, land use


Session 54: A new science of cities for responding to Global Environmental Change

Keywords: urbanization science, urbanization, synthesis, complexity


Session 67: Forecasting urbanization: Population and land dimensions

Keywords: population, forecasting, land use/land cover


Session 72: Urban weather and climates: Assessments and responses

Keywords: climate, weather, meteorology, climatology, climate hazards, urban heat island, precipitation, air pollution


Session 79: Drivers and patterns of urbanization: Towards a typology

Keywords: typology, urbanization


Theme 2: Urban Responses to Climate Change: Adaptation, Mitigation, and Transformation

The urban statistics are familiar to many - urban areas generate more than 90% of the global economy; are home to more than 52% of the world population; consume more than half of the world’s energy; and emit approximately three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions. The world is projected to become more urbanized and many developing countries, in particular India and China, will experience very rapid urbanization and environmental change. It is within the cities that the impacts of these changes are felt, but also where action is taken (whether it’s mitigation, adaptation or sustainable development policies and governance responses), and where great potential for intervention of urbanization trajectories exists towards creating more livable urban futures.

Despite the fact that cities are at the forefront of climate change adaptation and mitigation responses, local actions to address climate change are moving faster than our capacity to understand the effectiveness, benefits and unintended negative consequences of those actions. Theme 2 highlights the critical need to go beyond descriptive case studies or calls for further urban responses to climate change, and to take a more analytical approach to understanding the diversity of responses that exist, the lessons to be learned from them, the implications for city-level policies, development and what cumulative effect this might have at the regional or global scale. This implies looking critically at existing and newly developing governance structures and institutions by investigating the motivations behind the efforts to govern climate change, strategies and differing institutional capacities amongst cities.

The sessions within this theme synthesized what we have learned regarding the responses that take place within the urban system focusing on questions such as: What are the linkages that exist between adaptation, disaster risk reduction and resilience? What factors influence policies for urban climate change adaptation (e.g., differences between the North and South, cities of varying levels of development, political contexts, etc.)?; What makes effective strategies, effective, i.e., are there certain institutional/governance structures which need to be in place that are key for transformation? Sessions that offered perspectives from the physical sciences were equally important here, for example, by sharing knowledge of urban footprints (increasing or decreasing emissions) and cities’ actual effectiveness to reduce health impacts from heat waves and air pollution. 

Session 14: Human dimensions of urban heat islands

Keywords: extreme heat, health, urban, risk, climate change, urban heat island


Session 16: Building resilience in Asian cities

Keywords: local adaptation plan, multi-level governance, strategic planning process, Taiwan, Asian, urban resilience, research, policy


Session 25: Contested agendas or aligned objectives? Intermediation and the role of non-state actors in the low carbon urban transition

Keywords: Comparative urbanism, intermediaries, low carbon transition, non-state actors, urban politics, governance


Session 26: Urban social and institutional responses to global environmental change

Keywords: vulnerability, resilience, mitigation, adaptation, spatial planning, climate policy, social innovation, urban governance, policy learning, sustainability transitions, adaptive capacity, transformative capacity


Session 34: Co-benefits of addressing global environmental change in urban areas

Keywords: urbanization, biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate change mitigation, co-benefits, urban development


Session 61: Regional perspectives on urban transformations for adaptation to climate change

Keywords: climate change, adaptation, sustainable development, urbanization, transitions, land use change, disaster risk management


Session 70: Resilience and adaptation strategies for transitioning to a sustainable urban future

Keywords: resilience, adaptation, transitions, sustainability


Session 90: Shared learning across coastal cities: Impacts, vulnerability, and socio-ecological responses

Keywords: coastal cities, disaster risk reduction, climate change, adaptation, disaster management, resilience, governance


Theme 3: Global Environmental Change, Urban Health, and Well-Being

Global environmental changes (including climate change and biodiversity loss) as well as urbanization pressures on the environment, e.g., air and water pollution, have multiple implications for societies. An important component of this theme is the focus on how urban areas will transition to become more resilient, connecting research on poverty, food security and ecosystem services. Global environmental change affects the pool of natural resources and ecosystem services upon which urban systems rely, and urban areas depend on vast resources for the supply of critical ecological services. These include: provisioning services, such as food, water, medicinal plants and other resources; regulating services that enhance the quality of air and soil, or that provide flood, storm and disease control; habitat or supporting services, which underpin almost all other services; and also cultural and aesthetic services. However, urbanization destroys fragile wetlands, fragments ecosystems, endangers species and threatens biodiversity, and has severe impacts on the carbon cycle through changes in the net primary productivity of affected ecosystems.

The sessions under this theme synthesized what we have learned thus far regarding the bi-directional interactions between global environmental changes and urban processes, and the effects these have on urban dwellers with respect to health and well-being. Sessions offered insight to the following questions: What have we learned in terms of how to understand, quantify and valuate urban ecosystem services and incorporate this knowledge into urban planning and management? What approaches currently exist for urban biodiversity conservation? How does urban design and form contribute to building healthy communities? Even more broadly, what progress has been made with respect to understanding climate change impacts on human health and vulnerability at the city scale, and preparing cities against future GEC-related risks and uncertainties? 

Theme 3 represents a critical area that is yet to be extensively explored by the UGEC community, leaving fertile ground for future research and opportunity for multi- or interdisciplinary collaborations moving forward. 

Session 17: Ecosystem services in support of livable cities

Keywords: ecosystem services, human wellbeing, case studies, disservice, greenspace, climate adaptation, governance, cities


Session 20: Urban health and Global Environmental Change: Interdisciplinary perspectives

Keywords: urban health, climate change, heat, epidemiology, healthy cities, systems approach, environmental change and health, urban planning and health


Session 39: Urbanization, biodiversity, and ecosystem services

Keywords: biodiversity, ecosystem services, habitat conservation, urban expansion, urban ecology


Session 42: Resilience in the urban landscape: Improving human well-being

Keywords: ecology, well-being, urbanization, nature


Session 64: Influence on urban health in the global south: Identifying the challenges

Keywords: health, Global South, transitions, determinants


Theme 4: Equity and Environmental Justice in Urban Areas

Sustainability is founded on principles of equity for present and future generations. Worldwide, more than 900 million people, approximately one out of three urban dwellers, live in informal settlements, with most living under life- and health-threatening conditions. This ratio is expected to increase in the future. In light of their importance locally and regionally, and considering their size globally, the discussion of sustainability must incorporate approaches that include informal settlements. Furthermore, just as the concept of climate justice addresses the uneven negative impacts of global climate change especially on poor countries that, for example, contribute only a small portion to global greenhouse gas emissions, an environmental justice perspective that examines the fairness of services and disservices provided by the environment brings us closer to the goal of urban sustainability.

Similar to the focus areas of urban health and well-being in Theme 3, Theme 4 remains an understudied area of research for the UGEC community and does not yet have the breadth of coverage that is provided by Themes 1 and 2. Theme 4, thus, will be an important avenue for research into the next phase of urban and environmental change research, where insights from political science and theory as well as the humanities can offer substantial contributions.  The conference sessions under this theme, however, provided a good contribution to what we’ve come to understand, and also what we need to focus on for the future with respect to the interactions between global environmental change and human security, vulnerability and coping mechanisms of the global poor. Questions that were more specifically addressed and remain salient for future research include: How can we best influence growth and development policies for urban areas in both rich and poor countries alike, and assist them to better adapt to the potential negative consequences of global environmental change? What advances can be made in terms of woman and gender equality with respect to climate change mitigation and adaptation policies? This theme also acknowledged the critical need to address the developing urban world, its specific challenges, needs and opportunities for more livable cities. 

Session 44: Footprinting and low carbon urban infrastructure development

Keywords: green growth, infrastructure, city, investment, climate change, urban carbon footprints, individual carbon footprints, climate change mitigation, lifestyle, consumption, climate policy


Session 56: Towards livelihood security and social justice: The urbanization, infrastructure and governance nexus

Keywords: urbanization, infrastructure, livelihood, water, governance


Session 63: Challenges in the developing urban world: Informal settlements, slums, and growing inequalities

Keywords: informal settlements, inequality, poverty, urbanization, sustainability


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