2014 2nd International UGEC Conference

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 2nd International Conference on Urbanization and Global Environmental Change: Urban Transitions & Transformations: Science, Synthesis & Policy

November 6-8, 2014 | Howard Civil Service International House | Taipei, Taiwan

Conference Synthesis Document [PDF]
Conference Book of Abstracts [PDF]
Conference Program [PDF]
Watch all the panel sessions from the conference on YouTube
Check out the Conference Question of the Day on Vimeo.




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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.

Click here to download the full concept note

Panel Sessions

Ten Years of the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Project: Past, Present, and Future


  • Robero Sanchez Rodriguez, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Mexico
  • Karen Seto, Yale University
  • David Simon, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK & Mistra Urban Futures, Sweden
  • William Solecki, Hunter College, City University of New York, USA

Moderator: Corrie Griffith, Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Project, USA

Watch the panel on YouTube

Technology and Innovation: Trends, Conflicts, and Consequences for Urbanization


  • Federico Caprotti, King’s College, London, UK
  • Jason Chang, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
  • Colin Harrison, IBM, USA

Moderator: Peter Marcotullio, Hunter College, City University of New York, USA

Watch the panel on YouTube

Description: The late 20th century saw the rise of an impressive array of technological innovation in urban areas, which appear to have the capacity to solve diverse and complex urban problems and at the same time help address key environmental challenges like climate change and manage risk. The so-called Smart (or Intelligent) City refers to systems that collect and process large amounts of data through information and communication technologies to improve urban economic, social, and infrastructure development. These Smart Cities are promoted as responses to current and future development and sustainability challenges, yet little attention has been given to the socioeconomic and biophysical processes associated with urbanization and constraints they might impose on the construction of Smart Cities in developed and developing countries. Adequate attention has also not been given to the unintended consequences of these technological innovations on social equality within and among societies worldwide.

The panel will discuss and debate the potential contributions of Smart Cities, technological innovation and the use of big data in urban areas including their future potential for sustainability as well as their unintended consequences.

Guiding Future Growth: Urban Transitions in the 21st Century


  • Alejandro Nadal, Centre for Economic Studies of El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico
  • Harini Nagendra, Azim Premji University, India

Moderator: Roberto Sanchez Rodriguez, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Mexico

Watch the panel on YouTube

Description:The dynamic socioeconomic and biophysical processes of transition occurring thus far this century have introduced changes in key components of development and sustainability at regional, national and local levels. Urban areas are playing an important role in many of these transitions given their influence as centers of production and consumption, innovation and wealth. At present it is difficult to estimate the extent to which these transitions are creating regional and local urban transformations and their meaning for economic growth, social wellbeing, and the environment. However, it is essential to integrate the analysis of these global processes in the study of future urban growth and its interactions and implications for global environmental change.

This panel session will discuss key socioeconomic processes (e.g., financial crisis, collapsing and failing states, increasing inequality, emerging economic sectors, and trends in the appropriation of natural resources) and biophysical processes (e.g., changes in the climate and water cycle, loss of ecosystem services, acidification of oceans) that have influenced urbanization in the first half of this century and will aim to identify pathways for more sustainable urban trajectories.

Governing the Urban System: Towards New Frameworks & Institutional Approaches


  • Sue-Ching Jou, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
  • Susan Parnell, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • William Solecki, Hunter College, City University of New York, USA

Moderator: David Simon, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK & Mistra Urban Futures, Sweden

Watch the panel on YouTube

Description:The impressive growth and importance of urban areas in recent decades have resulted in an interconnected system of global cities that is fostering and diversifying governance processes such that urban governance cannot be considered just a local phenomenon, but instead operates at multiple geographical and temporal scales. However, urban institutions have experienced difficulty adapting to these new conditions and urban growth continues to be framed in isolation, as a local process only. Currently, urban governance and institutional structures are more often than not outmoded and siloed in their approach to address development and GEC-related issues. How to minimize institutional and policy gridlock as they try to keep up with change is a fundamental concern.

This panel will consider the increasing gap between good urban governance and urban institutional capacities in both developed and developing countries. The panel will also reflect on the consequences these trends have had on urban development and sustainability, and also the opportunities for developing and implementing new frameworks of governance during the first half of this century.

Overcoming the Challenges: Ways Forward in Urban Interdisciplinary Research & Practice


  • Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
  • Gordan McGranahan, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), UK
  • John Robinson, University of British Columbia, Canada

Moderator: Karen Seto, Yale University

Watch the panel on YouTube

Description:The study of urbanization and global environmental change is an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary endeavor. Given the urban sustainability challenges that face humanity, more effort is required to build holistic research frameworks and approaches. With such a wide array of agendas and backgrounds, communication within and between academics, decision-makers and other stakeholders is a difficult process, but also an increasingly important one.

This panel will focus on the challenges and ways forward in fostering and maintaining inter- and transdisciplinarity in urbanization and global environmental change research, and the science-policy-practice connections that are required for achieving impactful urban solutions at a diversity of levels and scales in the decades to come. Panelists will draw from their extensive experience working on such issues in the realm of interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary research and practice.

Reflections and Moving Forward for UGEC


  • Andres Luque-Ayala, Durham University, UK
  • Gordan McGranahan, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), UK
  • Susan Parnell, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Moderator: Patricia Romero-Lankao, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), USA

Watch the panel on YouTube

Description:This final conference panel will reflect on the discussions and key topics addressed over the span of the last three days. Selected panellists will be hand-picked from the list of conference attendees and will provide their feedback and reflections from their own individual perspectives on the key synthesis issues and messages they took note of, any gaps, and overall general reflections on the conference. Audience participation is encouraged. The goal is to end with some key synthesis messages and hopefully encouraging ideas for moving forward as a UGEC community.