Innovate4Cities 2021 Conference  October 11 – 15, 2021 (Online)

Innovate4Cities 2021 Conference October 11 – 15, 2021 (Online)

Call for submissions: Deadline 04 August

The Innovate4Cities Conference will be an international gathering at the nexus of cities, climate change science and innovation. This groundbreaking meeting will be co-hosted by UN-Habitat and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM). It will bring together over 1,000 city leaders, scientists, researchers, innovators,
academics, youth and business people to advance pragmatic and action oriented research and science that will help cities reduce their carbon footprint and increase resilience to climate change.

We invite our global network to collaborate with us on the conference program by showcasing the latest science and innovation from academia, city practitioners, policymakers, the private sector, and civil society, helping to bridge the gap between climate ambitions and results. We are calling for submissions with a unique focus
on research and innovation across the conference themes, inspired by the Global Research Action Agenda.

The call for submissions is open to researchers and academia, and also to city representatives, private industry, citizen initiatives or other urban innovators. Check the application guidelines

Conference themes

The conference program is built around the core themes of the Global Research and Action Agenda on Cities and Climate Change Science (GRAA) developed in Edmonton in 2018. There have been many developments in the urban sustainability agenda since Edmonton, in particular COVID-19 has transformed cities, widening existing inequalities, plunged new actors into financial hardship and exposed new vulnerabilities. When we rebuild cities in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic we must ensure that the green recovery is inclusive and provides co-benefits, such as improving health outcomes, promoting economic development, delivering jobs and addressing gender and racial inequities. In light of these developments, Justice & Equity, Health & Wellbeing and Digitalisation/Smart Cities have been added as cross-cutting themes for the conference and will be actively considered in the GRAA review process that will take place before, during and after the conference.

Topical Themes:

Innovate4Cities 2021 conference topics
Innovate4Cities 2021 conference topics

Built and Blue/Green Infrastructure:

Infrastructure is essential for providing critical urban services and building resilience against climate change. However, it is paramount that growth in infrastructure, particularly in the global South, does not result in a carbon lock-in as this will ultimately hinder cities’ ability to mitigate emissions. Innovation in low-carbon infrastructure options and nature-based solutions are thus central to the sustainable development agenda, particularly given the range of co-benefits provided in relation to health, well-being, biodiversity, and enhanced urban amenity.

Topic ideas: low-carbon construction techniques, affordable low-carbon building materials, carbon storage in infrastructure, clean transport, energy transitions, bioclimatic designed infrastructure, nature-based solutions.

Sustainable Consumption & Production:

In terms of unsustainable resource consumption, cities are at the heart of the problem, consuming 75% of the world’s resources and producing 50% of global waste (Ellen MacArthur Foundation). However, cities as centres of economic, social and cultural exchange, are well-positioned to tackle these problems. Innovation is needed in this domain in order to accelerate cleaner production, improve the circularity of material flows and encourage the diffusion of low-carbon materially sufficient lifestyles.

Topic ideas: Circular economy, urban metabolism, Waste management and closed loop food systems, Industrial symbiosis, Sustainable and resilient logistic systems, Sharing economy, Sustainable lifestyle.

Check the application guidelines.


A huge funding gap remains at the urban level, preventing ambition from becoming reality. Innovation in financing opportunities and mechanisms is urgently needed in order to address this problem. Innovative strategies for accessing, leveraging and scaling-up public, private and international climate finance are needed. Furthermore, innovation in sources of municipal revenue and research into insurance options and their role in addressing climate disaster risks are of significant utility.

Topic ideas: Support greater generation of municipal revenue for climate action, preparing and prioritizing climate-smart plans and investments with the goal of attracting more financing and support for implementation, Carbon pricing, Green public procurement, Environmental cost-accounting, Participatory processes in securing finance, Role of insurance in climate adaptation.


A third of the current urban population is estimated to live in slums or informal settlements. The effects of climate change are driving further urbanisation in the global South and with this the population of informal settlements is set to increase significantly. Moreover, climate change will hit the inhabitants of informal settlements most severely, exacerbating existing inequalities. Innovation in this space is thus urgently needed to allow informal settlements to build resilience whilst at the same time mitigating carbon emissions.

Topic ideas: Urban planning strategies for vulnerable communities and informal settlements., Climate relevant investment for informal settlements, Informal communities’ contribution towards sustainable development.


Many uncertainties still exist at the city level in regard to projected future climate conditions, levels of risk and vulnerability and the effectiveness of adaptation and mitigation efforts. Moreover, city-scale data is often under-represented and lacks integration across climate, biophysical and socio-economic datasets, particularly in the Global South. Innovation and research into city-level data and modelling, along with better tools for risk assessment and risk management will help practitioners better factor these uncertainties into their decision-making.

Topic ideas: Better generation of city-scale data, Better climate-relevant data on vulnerable communities.

Urban Planning and Design:

Multidimensional urban planning integrates mitigation and adaptation strategies across a range of different sectors, including energy, building and construction, transport, blue and green infrastructure and economic development. Innovations in spatial planning, energy, mobility and land-use will have strong implications on GHG emission reductions within cities and can also provide many co-benefits in terms of better quality of life, improved economic opportunities and better health outcomes.

Topic ideas: Energy ,Mobility and transport infrastructure ,Buildings and construction, Green space and habitats.

Cross-cutting Themes

City-level models and data:

Key climate and socio-economic data are needed at the city level, along with improved climate modelling capabilities. Issues surrounding data privacy and access also need to be addressed.


There is a need to understand the operational pathways and institutional structures for governance that effectively supports climate action in different urban contexts and that is inclusive of diverse priorities and voices in planning and decision- making.


New knowledge is needed to increase our understanding of the interplay between policies and actions taken at different scales(local/national/regional), and how this affects the ability to take effective and coordinated climate action.

Systems approach:

Holistic approaches are needed to capture and integrate diverse forms of knowledge and data from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives. Cities must also be viewed as parts of wider systems, re-integrating cities within their regions is particularly important when considering material and biological flows.

Justice and equity:

When rebuilding cities in the aftermath of Covid-19 it is of key importance that the green recovery delivers socially just and equitable outcomes. Adaptation and mitigation strategies must be developed under participatory and inclusive structures, and deliver co-benefits such as improving health outcomes, promoting economic development,
delivering jobs and addressing gender and racial inequities.

Digitalisation and smart cities:

Innovation in digital technologies offers many opportunities for accelerating climate action in cities through improved operational efficiency, real-time data and analytics to aid decision-making and the creation of synergies between systems.

Health and well-being:

Greater understanding of the impacts of climate change on health and wellbeing is required, along with innovation to scale up the co-benefits from city adaptation and mitigation strategies (i.e. nature based solutions, air quality improvements)

What do we mean by innovation?

GCoM’s Research and Innovation Technical Working Group understand ‘innovation’ broadly defined as a “new idea, method, or device” and a “change made to an existing product, idea, or field” (Merrium-Webster 2020).

In practice, city governments and other urban actors can engage in many forms of innovation spanning problem-solving, creativity, leadership, multidisciplinary approaches, visioning, and diffusion of alternative policies, processes and products.

A recent study of city governments by OECD and Bloomberg Philanthropies identified the most common innovation approaches of cities including:

1. Taking risks or testing new ideas
2. Data-driven analytics/public data management
3. Engaging residents in new ways
4. Developing new solutions based on digital technologies
5. Organizational change within the municipality
6. Human-centred design
7. Rethinking your city’s approach to financing partnerships

Application Guidelines

Submissions should consider how their contributions could:
- Deliver new data, research or insights for cities and city actors and opportunities for scaling up.
- Demonstrate new approaches to interdisciplinary knowledge co-production and multilevel governance.
- Generate partnerships for implementation, regionally or globally.
- Define and demonstrate what is innovative about city approaches and practices highlighted in the context of climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals
- Consider the level of accessibility of innovations and how they relate to considerations of equity and justice.
- Discuss common barriers/difficulties experienced and how they are overcome, with particular reference to how uncertainties are dealt with.
- Explore how interdisciplinary frameworks, particularly use of foresight analysis and future scenarios / systems design for the themes can enable sustainable transformation towards
- Present use cases and how they could drive implementation pathways and what contextualisation is needed to guarantee better dissemination.
- Consider how innovations are contextualised (fit-for-purpose relative to local needs) and opportunities for innovative solutions (technological, social, institutional) to be scaled up
- Submitters contact details.
- Submission title – must be limited to 25 words.
- Description text – limited to 400 words (including references, hyperlinks to case studies or websites).
You will also be asked a series of questions relating to the format of the session, innovation type, related themes, target audience, language requirements etc.

IFLA Europe
PUNTO Design Hunter Industries

IFLA Europe

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1070 Brussel, Belgium GSM: +32  492 319 451 Skype ID: ifla.europe Contact

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