Conference themes

The conference program is built around the core themes of the Global Research and Action Agenda on Cities and Climate Change Science (GRAA) developed in Edmonton in 2018. There have been many developments in the urban sustainability agenda since Edmonton, in particular COVID-19 has transformed cities, widening existing inequalities, plunged new actors into financial hardship and exposed new vulnerabilities. When we rebuild cities in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic we must ensure that the green recovery is inclusive and provides co-benefits, such as improving health outcomes, promoting economic development, delivering jobs and addressing gender and racial inequities. In light of these developments, Justice & Equity, Health & Wellbeing and Digitalisation/Smart Cities have been added as cross-cutting themes for the conference and will be actively considered in the GRAA review process that will take place before, during and after the conference.

The inner circle shows key cross-cutting themes; the middle circle shows the 6 key topic areas, the external circle shows three suggested approaches that help facilitate implementation of our collective efforts. Adapted from the 2018 Global Research and Action Agenda graphic originally designed by Amanali Cornejo V.

Topical Themes:

Built and Blue/Green Infrastructure:

Infrastructure is essential for providing critical urban services and building resilience against climate change. However, it is paramount that growth in infrastructure, particularly in the global South, does not result in a carbon lock-in as this will ultimately hinder cities' ability to mitigate emissions. Innovation in low-carbon infrastructure options and nature-based solutions are thus central to the sustainable development agenda, particularly given the range of co-benefits provided in relation to health, well-being, biodiversity, and enhanced urban amenity.

Topic ideas: low-carbon construction techniques, affordable low-carbon building materials, carbon storage in infrastructure, clean transport, energy transitions, bioclimatic designed infrastructure, nature-based solutions.

Sustainable Consumption & Production:

In terms of unsustainable resource consumption, cities are at the heart of the problem, consuming 75% of the world’s resources and producing 50% of global waste (Ellen MacArthur Foundation). However, cities as centres of economic, social and cultural exchange, are well-positioned to tackle these problems. Innovation is needed in this domain in order to accelerate cleaner production, improve the circularity of material flows and encourage the diffusion of low-carbon materially sufficient lifestyles.

Topic ideas: Circular economy, urban metabolism, Waste management and closed loop food systems, Industrial symbiosis, Sustainable and resilient logistic systems, Sharing economy, Sustainable lifestyle.


A huge funding gap remains at the urban level, preventing ambition from becoming reality. Innovation in financing opportunities and mechanisms is urgently needed in order to address this problem. Innovative strategies for accessing, leveraging and scaling-up public, private and international climate finance are needed. Furthermore, innovation in sources of municipal revenue and research into insurance options and their role in addressing climate disaster risks are of significant utility.

Topic ideas: Support greater generation of municipal revenue for climate action, preparing and prioritizing climate-smart plans and investments with the goal of attracting more financing and support for implementation, Carbon pricing, Green public procurement, Environmental cost-accounting, Participatory processes in securing finance, Role of insurance in climate adaptation.


A third of the current urban population is estimated to live in slums or informal settlements. The effects of climate change are driving further urbanisation in the global South and with this the population of informal settlements is set to increase significantly. Moreover, climate change will hit the inhabitants of informal settlements most severely, exacerbating existing inequalities. Innovation in this space is thus urgently needed to allow informal settlements to build resilience whilst at the same time mitigating carbon emissions.

Topic ideas: Urban planning strategies for vulnerable communities and informal settlements., Climate relevant investment for informal settlements, Informal communities' contribution towards sustainable development.


Many uncertainties still exist at the city level in regard to projected future climate conditions, levels of risk and vulnerability and the effectiveness of adaptation and mitigation efforts. Moreover, city-scale data is often under-represented and lacks integration across climate, biophysical and socio-economic datasets, particularly in the Global South. Innovation and research into city-level data and modelling, along with better tools for risk assessment and risk management will help practitioners better factor these uncertainties into their decision-making.

Topic ideas: Better generation of city-scale data, Better climate-relevant data on vulnerable communities.

Urban Planning and Design:

Multidimensional urban planning integrates mitigation and adaptation strategies across a range of different sectors, including energy, building and construction, transport, blue and green infrastructure and economic development. Innovations in spatial planning, energy, mobility and land-use will have strong implications on GHG emission reductions within cities and can also provide many co-benefits in terms of better quality of life, improved economic opportunities and better health outcomes.

Topic ideas: Energy ,Mobility and transport infrastructure ,Buildings and construction ,Green space and habitats.

Cross-cutting Themes

City-level models and data:

Key climate and socio-economic data are needed at the city level, along with improved climate modelling capabilities. Issues surrounding data privacy and access also need to be addressed.


There is a need to understand the operational pathways and institutional structures for governance that effectively supports climate action in different urban contexts and that is inclusive of diverse priorities and voices in planning and decision- making.


New knowledge is needed to increase our understanding of the interplay between policies and actions taken at different scales(local/national/regional), and how this affects the ability to take effective and coordinated climate action.

Systems approach:

Holistic approaches are needed to capture and integrate diverse forms of knowledge and data from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives. Cities must also be viewed as parts of wider systems, re-integrating cities within their regions is particularly important when considering material and biological flows.

Justice and equity:

When rebuilding cities in the aftermath of Covid-19 it is of key importance that the green recovery delivers socially just and equitable outcomes. Adaptation and mitigation strategies must be developed under participatory and inclusive structures, and deliver co-benefits such as improving health outcomes, promoting economic development, delivering jobs and addressing gender and racial inequities.

Digitalisation and smart cities:

Innovation in digital technologies offers many opportunities for accelerating climate action in cities through improved operational efficiency, real-time data and analytics to aid decision-making and the creation of synergies between systems.

Health and wellbeing:

Greater understanding of the impacts of climate change on health and wellbeing is required, along with innovation to scale up the co-benefits from city adaptation and mitigation strategies (i.e. nature based solutions, air quality improvements)

What do we mean by innovation?

GCoM’s Research and Innovation Technical Working Group understand ‘innovation’ broadly defined as a “new idea, method, or device” and a “change made to an existing product, idea, or field” (Merrium-Webster 2020).

In practice, city governments and other urban actors can engage in many forms of innovation spanning problem-solving, creativity, leadership, multidisciplinary approaches, visioning, and diffusion of alternative policies, processes and products.

A recent study of city governments by OECD and Bloomberg Philanthropies identified the most common innovation approaches of cities including:
1. Taking risks or testing new ideas
2. Data-driven analytics/public data management
3. Engaging residents in new ways
4. Developing new solutions based on digital technologies
5. Organizational change within the municipality
6. Human-centred design
7. Rethinking your city’s approach to financing partnerships