Urban Science Research Contributes to Advancing Global Climate Action

Cities are loci of vulnerability to climate change that also present important adaptation opportunities.

Urban adaptation to climate change has a multi-faceted nature. The inner and outer circles respectively identify the main factors constraining and facilitating urban adaptation.

[Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) from Lobo, J., et al. "Integration of Urban Science and Urban Climate Adaptation Research: Opportunities to Advance Climate Action." npj Urban Sustainability 3 (1), 1–9 (2023). DOI:10.1038/s42949-023-00113-0.]

The Science

Actionable research on urban adaptation should incorporate social, ecological, physical, and technological systems while recognizing that cities are social networks embedded in built and natural environments. This study unites many academic disciplines to comprehensively understand urban adaptation to climate change and build knowledge that can inform policymaking and enable action. Cities in the global south are growing at an unprecedented pace and scale; these cities and their informal communities must be central to the study of how urbanization can either facilitate or hinder climate action. The proposed research effort is thus a call for the active co-creation of knowledge involving scientists and stakeholders, especially those historically excluded from the design and implementation of urban development policies.

The Impact

Twenty-five globally respected urban scientists from 10 countries on five continents, including representatives from three of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Urban Integrated Field Laboratories (Southeast Texas, Southwest, Community Research on Climate and Urban Science), articulated a vision for the integration of urban science with urban climate adaptation research to advance global climate action. Urban areas contain many people vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and have significant potential to reduce social vulnerability through enhanced adaptive capacity, innovation, and policy. Urban research must address how to minimize growing vulnerabilities while enabling far-reaching and equitable climate action for a better future.


Cities are dense social networks embedded in physical built space. Interconnections among urban climate, technology, and governance define the scope and emerging challenges of a convergent global research agenda on urban adaptation. This study highlights diverse perspectives that research on urban adaptation to climate change must bring together and be based upon, which is expressed in the form of eight conceptual tenets. (1) Urban actors are the principal drivers of invention, innovation, and development. (2) Urban settings function as “social reactors,” concentrating and accelerating interactions and their social, economic, and political outcomes in space and time. (3) Cities’ historical trajectories result from technological capabilities and socioeconomic processes. (4) Climate risk exposure and adaptive capacity varies with the scale and heterogeneity of urbanization. (5) Cities’ vulnerabilities should be understood, and adaptive capacities should be developed with careful attention to history. (6) The nexus of climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and urban development must be considered. (7) Urban climates are partly socially constructed. (8) Co-creation of knowledge among public and private sectors as well as citizens, specifically the urban poor and residents of informal settlements, must be part of the new research agenda.

Principal Investigator

Christa Brelsford
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Program Manager

Sally McFarlane, Bob Vallario
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Urban Integrated Field Laboratories


This work was supported in part by the Southeast Texas Urban Integrated Field Laboratory (SETx-IFL), the Southwest Urban Corridor Integrated Field Laboratory (SW-IFL), and the Community Research on Climate and Urban Science (CROCUS) projects, which are supported by the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program within the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.


Lobo, J., et al. "Integration of Urban Science and Urban Climate Adaptation Research: Opportunities to Advance Climate Action." npj Urban Sustainability 3 (1), 1–9  (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42949-023-00113-0.