Independent lines of research on urbanization, urban areas, and carbon have advanced our understanding of some of the processes through which energy and land uses affect carbon. This synthesis integrates some of these diverse viewpoints as a first step toward a coproduced, integrated framework for understanding urbanization, urban areas, and their relationships to carbon. It suggests the need for approaches that complement and combine the plethora of existing insights into interdisciplinary explorations of how different urbanization processes, and socio-ecological and technological components of urban areas, affect the spatial and temporal patterns of carbon emissions, differentially over time and within and across cities. It also calls for a more holistic approach to examining the carbon implications of urbanization and urban areas, based not only on demographics or income but also on other interconnected features of urban development pathways such as urban form, economic function, economic-growth policies, and other governance arrangements. It points to a wide array of uncertainties around the urbanization processes, their interactions with urban socio-institutional and built environment systems, and how these impact the exchange of carbon flows within and outside urban areas. We must also understand in turn how carbon feedbacks, including carbon impacts and potential impacts of climate change, can affect urbanization processes. Finally, the paper explores options, barriers, and limits to transitioning cities to low-carbon trajectories, and suggests the development of an end-to-end, coproduced and integrated scientific understanding that can more effectively inform the navigation of transitional journeys and the avoidance of obstacles along the way.
Romero-Lankao, Patricia; Sperling, Joshua; Gurney, Kevin R.; and Runfola, Dan, A critical knowledge pathway to low-carbon, sustainable futures: Integrated understanding of urbanization, urban areas, and carbon (2014). Earths Future.