Special Thematic Set: Urbanization, Carbon Cycle, and Climate Change

October 30, 2014
Washington, D.C.


The papers from the urban carbon and human interactions workshop that the CCIWG/US Carbon Cycle Science Program Office sponsored and organized with community scientists' leadership and UCAR's help last year have been published in a special section of Earth's Future.

A thematic set of four papers synthesize contributions to the study of urbanization and the carbon cycle from the social sciences (Marcotullio et al.), engineering sciences and technology (Chester et al.) and the natural sciences (Hutyra et al), and present a new framework for the study of the urbanization and the carbon cycle that integrates multiple disciplinary perspectives and frameworks (Romero-Lankao et al.).
'These papers demonstrate convincingly that an integrated approach to urbanization and the carbon cycle is overdue. Romero-Lankao et al. [2014] respond to this challenge by proposing a compelling framework to understand the processes of urbanization and the impacts of urban areas on the carbon cycle through the study of four broad research themes: (1) key multiscale interactions between urbanization, urban areas, and energy use; (2) the exchange of carbon flows within and outside urban areas; (3) how carbon feedbacks can affect urbanization; and (4) the barriers and opportunities for creating low-carbon urban futures. Empirical analyses that begin with this type of integrated model are necessary for comprehending the interactions of urbanization and the carbon cycle, and can also help to identify intervention points for decisions that lead to desirable, sustainable outcomes.' (Boone, 2014) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/2014EF000277/
The four papers are listed below:
1. A critical knowledge pathway to low‐carbon, sustainable futures: Integrated understanding of urbanization, urban areas, and carbon
By Patricia Romero‐Lankao, Kevin R. Gurney, Karen C. Seto, Mikhail Chester, Riley M. Duren, Sara Hughes, Lucy R. Hutyra, Peter Marcotullio, Lawrence Baker, Nancy B. Grimm, et al
Key Points: We need integrated, coproduced approaches to urbanization, urban areas, and carbon. Urbanization uncertainties are of similar magnitude to carbon uncertainties. Lock‐ins in urbanization, cities, and carbon constrain low‐carbon transitions.
2. Positioning infrastructure and technologies for low‐carbon urbanization
By Mikhail V. Chester, Josh Sperling, Eleanor Stokes, Braden Allenby, Kara Kockelman, Christopher Kennedy, Lawrence A. Baker, James Keirstead, Chris T. Hendrickson
Key Points: Infrastructure and social institutions are inextricably linked. Infrastructure GHG assessment views systems as static and isolated. Process, complexity, and management challenges exist for reducing emissions.
3. Urbanization and the carbon cycle: Contributions from social science
By Peter J. Marcotullio, Sara Hughes, Andrea Sarzynski, Stephanie Pincetl, Landy Sanchez Peña, Patricia Romero‐Lankao, Daniel Runfola, Karen C. Seto
Key Points: Urban socio‐institutional dynamics are important influences on energy use and GHG emissions. No consensus exists on details of urban socio‐institutional‐GHG relationships. Integrated research for an urbanization science is necessary
4. Urbanization and the carbon cycle: Current capabilities and research outlook from the natural sciences perspective
By Lucy R. Hutyra, Riley Duren, Kevin R. Gurney, Nancy Grimm, Eric A. Kort, Elisabeth Larson, Gyami Shrestha
Key Points: Large carbon fluxes and rapid change make cities key carbon cycle elements. Cities represent ideal interdisciplinary carbon cycle process laboratories. Sustained campaigns in representative cities will transform urban carbon science.
An article on the above is cross-posted below from http://www.globalchange.gov/news/new-research-frontiers-urban-carbon-cycle, as written by Cat Wolner, USGCRP.

Nov 20, 2014

New Research Frontiers: the Urban Carbon Cycle

View of a tree-lined city

The carbon cycle underlies all Earth systems—both natural and human-managed. That includes urban areas, which account for 60–80% of energy consumption and carbon emissions worldwide.1

Typically, natural science studies of carbon in cities have focused on quantifying input and output, without examining how these carbon fluxes are tied to complex economic, behavioral, and political factors. Likewise, social science studies have not considered urban carbon on scales of time and space that connect with approaches used in the natural sciences.

As a first step in building an interdisciplinary community to explore human–carbon interactions in cities, USGCRP’s Carbon Cycle Interagency Working Group—via the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program—sponsored a workshop last year with natural and social scientists and engineers from within and outside the government. The workshop participants delved into the challenges and opportunities involved in building a holistic research program on urbanization and the carbon cycle. They produced four peer-reviewed reports and a white paper to share their insights with the broader scientific community and with the research funding entities that catalyze advancements in carbon cycle science. “These community-led products are already serving as valuable input for evolving interagency conversations,” said Gyami Shrestha, Director of the U.S. Carbon Cycle Science Program Office. 

Recently, these reports were published in a special section of the open-access journal Earth’s Future. The reports synthesize contributions from the social sciences (Marcotullio et al.), engineering sciences and technology (Chester et al.), and the natural sciences (Hutyra et al.), and present a new framework for the study of the urban carbon cycle that integrates perspectives from multiple disciplines (Romero-Lankao et al.).

These publications lay the groundwork for research that not only has the potential to advance understanding of the carbon cycle and urban environments, but also to inform the climate-resilient development and management of urban green spaces and infrastructure.