Cities, Indigenous Knowledge, and Climate Change: Notes from the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report and UNDP Report on Climate-Smart Cities

The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (herein referred to as 2021 IPCC report), released on August 9, 2021, confirmed that urban growth, urbanization, and cities, intensify “human induced climate change.” In addition, the UNDP report Catalyzing Private Sector Investment in Climate-Smart Cities released in 2020, addressed the importance of catalyzing private investment for projects that enable the development of climate-smart cities. While both reports point to the role of cities in simultaneously accelerating and combatting climate change, they vary on their recognition for Indigenous knowledge in facilitating and expanding solutions for climate adaptation.

Section A.6.5 in the 2021 IPCC report projects that urban expansion will “lead to conversion of cropland” and result in “losses in food production.” It recommends that strategies be put into place that enhance food production in peri-urban regions, better manage urban growth, and facilitate urban green infrastructure. Furthermore, Section C.2.6 of the report notes that, “[c]ities intensify human-induced warming locally, and further urbanization together with more frequent hot extremes will increase the severity of heatwaves … Urbanization also increases mean and heavy precipitation over and/or downwind of cities…”

The 2021 IPCC report makes references to how the combination of Indigenous Knowledge and contemporary scientific research are crucial to understanding and combatting climate change effects. The report further notes that, Indigenous and local knowledge should be considered in situations where no scientific knowledge is evident and that “effective partnerships recognize and respond to the diversity of all parties involved (including their values, beliefs and interests), especially when they involve culturally diverse communities their indigenous and local knowledge of weather, climate and their society.” (See chapter 10, p. 120).

By contrast, the UNDP report highlights opportunities and challenges for catalyzing private sector investment in projects that facilitate and sustain climate-smart cities. According to the report, “climate-smart cities are energy efficient; reduce reliance on nonrenewable energy sources; actively encourage waste reduction; and promote the circular economy, resilient low-carbon infrastructure, low-carbon transport, water management, green spaces, and nature-based solutions” (p. 12). The climate-smart city focuses on development that upholds the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 – “making cities more resilient, sustainable, inclusive and safe.” However, it is disappointing that the UNDP report does not also consider how private investments in Indigenous innovation and a promotion of Indigenous procurement practices could also bolster projects for climate-smart cities and regions.

Both the IPCC and UNDP reports provide insights into how cities play an integral role in developing solutions for climate change adaptation. Cities are located on Indigenous lands and in Canada, approximately “45% of Registered Indians, 76% of Non-Status Indians, 50% of Inuit, and 70% of Métis live in urban areas,” as reported in the 2020 Report to Parliament delivered by the Minister of Indigenous Services and based on the 2016 Census. Consequently, any investment in climate change adaptation solutions for the climate-smart city must include Indigenous-led solutions.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Chuttersnap, Unsplash)