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COP27: cities and universities create an alliance against climate change

Patricia Crifo
Patricia Crifo
Professor of Economics at École Polytechnique (IP Paris), Researcher at CREST (CNRS) and Associate Researcher at CIRANO
K GRANDI Lorenzo
Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi
Founder and Director of the City Diplomacy Lab at Columbia Global Centers (Paris)
Key takeaways
  • In the face of the worsening climate crisis, cities and universities are working together.
  • The aim is to organise thought, training, and research activities so that cities can become involved in the fight against global warming.
  • This alliance facilitates contact between academic and institutional partners and creates a global network of researchers and public decision-makers.
  • For example, the École Polytechnique (IP Paris is working with the City of Paris as part of the green and sustainable finance strategy supported by the region.
  • In the south, the city of Marseille is working with Aix-Marseille University to review its mobility, energy, and biodiversity preservation policies.

In 2011, Edward Glaeser, an econ­o­mist at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, con­sid­ered that cities were the health­i­est, green­est, and rich­est places. Peo­ple live longer, health­i­er and with 40% less ener­gy con­sump­tion in New York than in the sub­urbs1. But the cities and met­ro­pol­i­tan areas of the 21st Cen­tu­ry are set to under­go pro­found changes in the future: in tech­no­log­i­cal, envi­ron­men­tal, and social ways.

Cli­mate change and the result­ing health risks pose a major prob­lem for our cities and towns: air pol­lu­tion alone is respon­si­ble for 3–9 mil­lion deaths per year – equiv­a­lent to almost 1 in 5 deaths world­wide – and up to 3 times more than Covid-19 (esti­mat­ed at 3 mil­lion deaths).

Uniting against climate change

As the glob­al cli­mate cri­sis esca­lates, cities and uni­ver­si­ties are demon­strat­ing unprece­dent­ed commitment. 

First, giv­en their dual nature as the polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions clos­est to cit­i­zens and the main providers of pub­lic ser­vices, cities are com­mit­ted to address­ing change by dri­ving sus­tain­abil­i­ty, par­tic­i­pa­tion, and equal­i­ty. These same prin­ci­ples are guid­ing the actions of a grow­ing num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties, which are also keen to con­tribute in terms of research and train­ing, both on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of cli­mate change and on the best tools to counter it and inte­grate it into gov­ern­ment measures.

This con­ver­gence of inten­tions fos­ters a grow­ing syn­er­gy between cities and uni­ver­si­ties. Dur­ing COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, the City Diplo­ma­cy Lab of Colum­bia Glob­al Cen­ters Paris and the AIMF (Asso­ci­a­tion inter­na­tionale des maires fran­coph­o­nes) organ­ised a round table at the Pavil­lon inter­na­tion­al de la Fran­coph­o­nie on 8 Novem­ber2, bring­ing togeth­er – along­side Loren­zo Kihlgren Gran­di and Patri­cia Cri­fo – Michèle Rubiro­la, First Deputy to the May­or of Mar­seille ; Slim Khal­bous, Rec­tor of the Agence Uni­ver­si­taire de la Fran­coph­o­nie; Etotépé Sog­bo­hos­sou, Direc­tor of the Envi­ron­ment Depart­ment at Sen­g­hor Uni­ver­si­ty in Alexan­dria; Mélody Braun, Asso­ciate Mem­ber of the Inter­na­tion­al Research Insti­tute for Cli­mate and Soci­ety (IRI) at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty’s Cli­mate School.

The City Diplo­ma­cy Lab at Colum­bia Glob­al Cen­ters Paris is an unprece­dent­ed alliance between aca­d­e­mics and prac­ti­tion­ers of inter­na­tion­al city action. It deploys a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary method­ol­o­gy to broad­en the under­stand­ing and prac­tice of city diplo­ma­cy and con­tribute to its evo­lu­tion. And it devel­ops both research (the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work, data and com­par­a­tive analy­sis) and train­ing on city diplo­ma­cy issues (for uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents and munic­i­pal, nation­al and inter­na­tion­al offi­cials), as well as prac­tice by advis­ing local and inter­na­tion­al actors.

In addi­tion, since 1979, the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Fran­coph­o­ne May­ors (AIMF) has brought togeth­er the may­ors of cities that share the French lan­guage and that col­lec­tive­ly share a soci­etal project: to build cities that are sus­tain­able in their social, eco­nom­ic, and envi­ron­men­tal aspects through inclu­sive and open governance.

What are the objectives of the collaboration between cities and universities?

An event at COP27 focused on the role of alliances between cities and uni­ver­si­ties for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment and the climate.

On this occa­sion, sev­er­al emblem­at­ic cas­es of city-uni­ver­si­ty alliances for the sake of cli­mate and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment were pre­sent­ed. For exam­ple, École Poly­tech­nique (IP Paris) and the City of Paris have been devel­op­ing an inno­v­a­tive and orig­i­nal part­ner­ship since 2019 with the aim of respond­ing to a com­mon prob­lem, name­ly how cities and uni­ver­si­ties can effec­tive­ly fight cli­mate change together. 

Con­verg­ing goals on cli­mate issues are dri­ving a grow­ing syn­er­gy between cities and universities.

In con­crete terms, this involves, on the one hand, organ­is­ing a reflec­tion, train­ing, and research activ­i­ty to pro­mote the con­tri­bu­tion of cities to the fight against cli­mate change, with the Cli­mate Plan, for exam­ple. On the oth­er hand, it is a ques­tion of facil­i­tat­ing direct con­tact between aca­d­e­m­ic and insti­tu­tion­al part­ners by rely­ing on the cre­ation of a world­wide net­work of researchers and pub­lic decision-makers.

This col­lab­o­ra­tion makes it pos­si­ble to assess the prospects offered by dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, the new chal­lenges for infra­struc­ture and the smart city, as well as to antic­i­pate the major risks that metrop­o­lis­es will have to face. It is the stu­dents of the MScT Eco­nom­ics for Smart Cities and Cli­mate Pol­i­cy3 who are inter­est­ed in all the dimen­sions of a sus­tain­able cli­mate and finance plan in their final the­sis (as part of their cap­stone projects). They are also the ones who must come up with ideas for the future. The stu­dents ben­e­fit from the advice of a pro­fes­sion­al from the part­ner insti­tu­tion involved, who can help them access rel­e­vant data. The stu­dents are super­vised by a master’s ref­er­ent pro­fes­sor who is in charge of the aca­d­e­m­ic part.

In prac­ti­cal terms, the sub­jects cov­ered are numer­ous: they range from traf­fic and mobil­i­ty poli­cies in Paris (bicy­cle plan, sub­si­dies for EVs, motorised two-wheel­ers, elec­tric refu­elling, man­age­ment of old vehi­cles, car­bon pric­ing) to ener­gy ren­o­va­tions, bio-sourced con­struc­tion, and intel­li­gent build­ings, not for­get­ting the reduc­tion of plas­tic, food wastage, waste pric­ing and recov­ery, or even bio­di­ver­si­ty, urban agri­cul­ture, fake news and cities, sport, and health.

© Eka­te­ri­na Ghosh

Sim­i­lar­ly, École Poly­tech­nique and the Île-de-France region have been coop­er­at­ing since Jan­u­ary 2021. Since the law on the New Ter­ri­to­r­i­al Organ­i­sa­tion of the Repub­lic (7 August 2015) and the law on the Ener­gy Tran­si­tion for Green Growth (17 August 2015), the French regions have become key play­ers in the imple­men­ta­tion of ener­gy, air qual­i­ty and cli­mate poli­cies. Giv­en their respon­si­bil­i­ties and com­pe­tences (urban plan­ning, mobil­i­ty, etc.), local author­i­ties are key play­ers in the field of air qual­i­ty, ener­gy, and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment policies. 

The objec­tive of the col­lab­o­ra­tion between the region and École Poly­tech­nique (IP Paris) is to car­ry out joint work – in par­tic­u­lar, eco­nom­ic and social impact stud­ies – con­cern­ing the Ile-de-France region, with­in the frame­work of the green and sus­tain­able finance strat­e­gy sup­port­ed by the region.

Marseille and sustainable urban development

Many ques­tions arise in the con­text of such col­lab­o­ra­tions between cities or regions and aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions, whether it be, for exam­ple, on the mea­sures to be tak­en to achieve ambi­tious objec­tives or the mea­sure­ment of the impact of a cli­mate plan and a sus­tain­able finance strategy.

The aim is to organ­ise reflec­tion, train­ing and research to pro­mote the con­tri­bu­tion of cities to the fight against cli­mate change.

Among the exam­ples of col­lab­o­ra­tion between cities and uni­ver­si­ties for cli­mate and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment that exist, we should men­tion Mar­seille. In April 2022, the City of Mar­seille was cho­sen by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion (among the 377 munic­i­pal­i­ties that applied) to par­tic­i­pate in the Euro­pean pro­gramme « One hun­dred car­bon neu­tral cities by 2030 ». To achieve this objec­tive, Mar­seille has cho­sen to focus on trans­port and mobil­i­ty, ther­mal ren­o­va­tion of build­ings and pub­lic facil­i­ties, sus­tain­able ener­gy pro­duc­tion, a return to nature in the city, preser­va­tion of the coast­line and bio­di­ver­si­ty, inclu­sion and inno­va­tion. To meet this chal­lenge, the City of Mar­seille has co-con­struct­ed the project with Aix-Mar­seille University.

The project is there­fore a great hope for find­ing solu­tions for sus­tain­able urban devel­op­ment and effec­tive tools for mit­i­gat­ing and adapt­ing to cli­mate change.

1Edward Glaeser (2011), Tri­umph of the city: how our great­est inven­tion makes us rich­er, smarter, green­er, health­i­er, and hap­pi­er. Pen­guin pub­lish­ing group.SeScdsfdf
2See https://​www​.city​diplo​ma​cy​lab​.net/​b​r​i​n​g​i​n​g​-​e​n​v​i​r​o​n​m​e​n​t​a​l​-​c​i​t​y​-​d​i​p​l​o​m​a​c​y​-​t​o​-​c​op27/
3See https://​pro​grammes​.poly​tech​nique​.edu/​e​n​/​m​a​s​t​e​r​-​a​l​l​-​m​s​c​t​-​p​r​o​g​r​a​m​s​/​e​c​o​n​o​m​i​c​s​-​f​o​r​-​s​m​a​r​t​-​c​i​t​i​e​s​-​a​n​d​-​c​l​i​m​a​t​e​-​p​o​l​i​c​y​/​e​c​o​n​o​m​i​c​s​-​f​o​r​-​s​m​a​r​t​-​c​ities

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