Connecting the Urban: Global perspectives and local initiatives

Transforming cities and infrastructure is a key prerequisite to achieve sustainable, resilient, and liveable society. This is a complex task that requires a clear understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities facing cities in different part of the world, and a strong collaboration across science, policy, and practice.

Connecting the Urban: Global perspectives and local initiatives will bring prominent urban researchers and practitioners from Australia, Europe, USA and Asia together with experts from the ACT to explore the state of the art in urban knowledge. We will explore the innovative practices used to address these challenges, and examine the role of global networks transcending science, policy and practice in promoting urban sustainability. 

This event is presented by the Fenner School of Environment & Society, Future Earth Australia, and Urban KAN.

Join us for a reception in the foyer after the panel event concludes.


Panel speakers

Moderated by Distinguished Professor Xuemei Bai, ANU. Welcome by Dr Joëlle Gergis, introduction to Introduction to Future Earth Australia Dr Tayanah O’Donnell.

  • Professor Kate Auty, ACT Sustainability Commissioner
  • Professor Thomas Elmqvist, Stockholm Resilience Center, Sweden
  • A/Professor Timon McPhearson, New School, USA
  • Mr. Noboru Zama, UNHABITAT, Nepal


About Future Earth Australia (FEA)

Future Earth Australia (FEA) is a national peak initiative that enables Australian scientists, governments, industry and NGOs to collaborate both with each other and with international networks and programs across Australia. Future Earth’s Urban Knowledge-Action Network is a global network of researchers and other innovators in policy, business, civil society, and more. We’re working to solve the most pressing challenges facing cities worldwide. We build new knowledge and tools to accelerate real-world transitions and transformations toward cities that are sustainable and liveable.


About the speakers

Kate Auty
Professor Kate Auty is the ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment and a Professorial Fellow with the University of Melbourne. Other recent roles included Vice Chancellor’s Fellow (University of Melbourne), Victorian Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability (2009-2014), Chair of the Ministerial Reference Council on Climate Change Adaptation (Victoria 2008-2010), member of the Victorian Premier’s Climate Change Advisory Council (2009-2010), and a City of Melbourne Climate Change Ambassador developing the Future Melbourne Plan 2026 (2015).

Kate was previously a member of the advisory board of AURIN, chair of the advisory board of NeCTAR (both Super Science initiatives funded through NCRIS), and a member of the advisory board of ACSEES (MDBA). She was a director on the Board of the AWiA Ltd in 2017 and a member of the board of MSRF Ltd from 2016-2018. She chairs the Board of the Banksia Foundation Ltd. In early 2018 Kate agreed to be co-opted to the board of Sustainable Business Australia.


Thomas Elmqvist
Dr. Thomas Elmqvist is professor in Natural Resource Management at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University. His research is focused on urbanization, urban ecosystem services, land use change, natural disturbances and components of resilience including the role of social institutions. He has led the UN-initiated global project “Cities and Biodiversity Outlook” and more recently the Future Earth Project “Urban Planet” (

He currently serves as Editor in chief for the Nature Research journal “npj Urban Sustainability” and as associated editor for the journals Ecology and Society, Sustainability Science, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability and Global Sustainability. He received 2018 the Biodiversa prize for “Excellence in science and impact” and in 2019 the ESA prize in “Sustainability Science”.


Timon McPhearson
Dr. Timon McPhearson is Director of the Urban Systems Lab and Associate Professor of Urban Ecology at The New School in New York City. He is a Senior Research Fellow at The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and Associate Research Fellow at Stockholm Resilience Centre. As an IPCC Lead Author he focused on urban adaptation and resilience in cities. In 2019 he was awarded the Sustainability Science Award and the Innovation in Sustainability Science Award by the Ecological Society of America.

He co-leads the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) “Urban Resilience to Extreme Weather Related Events” Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN) in the US and Latin America, the NATURA network on “Nature-based Solutions for Urban Resilience in the Anthropocene,” and the NSF “Converging social, ecological, and technological infrastructure systems (SETS) for urban resilience.” He is published widely in scientific journals (Nature, Nature Climate Change, Nature Sustainability, BioScience), books (e.g. Urban Planet), popular press (The Nature of Cities), and in the press (The New York Times, The Guardian, The Nation, New York Times Magazine, CityLab, Urban Omnibus and others).


Noboru Zama
Noboru Zama is an Associate Expert – Climate Change in the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat). He is based in Kathmandu, Nepal. He is constructing partnerships and initiating projects in the context of cities and climate change.

Prior to joining UN-Habitat, he held a variety of environment-related positions in the United Nations and governmental organizations. At the UN University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) he had served as a project coordinator for climate change and sustainable development related projects such as the Low Carbon Technology Transfer (LCT), Governance for Sustainable Development (GSD), Water Cycle Evaluation (WCE) and Grant for Global Sustainability (GGS). For the LCT project, he had analyzed and evaluated low carbon technology transfer projects implemented in Southeast Asia through city-to-city cooperation schemes.

At the Overseas Environmental Cooperation Center, Japan (OECC) he had served as a researcher for international climate change projects. He was involved in developing climate change mitigation projects in Southeast Asia and Latin America. He has written articles on Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and had co-edited “The NAMA Guidebook 3rd Edition”. He also took part in climate negotiations from COP21 to COP24 as part of the Japanese national delegation and covered adaptation and loss and damage.

In his early career, he had worked for the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, Environment Management Department as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Most of his work was on solid waste management and environmental policy where he promoted the 3R (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) concept through environmental education and instructed composting of organic waste and waste segregation in communities.

He holds a Bachelor of Foreign Studies degree and a Master of Economics degree from Sophia University. Besides his country of nationality, Japan, he had lived in Canada, Brazil and Nepal and speaks Japanese, English, Portuguese, Spanish and Nepali.


Xuemei Bai
Professor Xuemei Bai is a Distinguished Professor of Urban Environment and Human Ecology at the Fenner School of Environment and Society. Prior to joining ANU in 2011, she led several influential action research in Asian cities, and was invited to teach at Yale University for two years as a Professor in the Practice of Urban Ecology. Her research focuses on the science and policy of rapid urbanization and urban system sustainability. She has authored/co-authored over 100 academic publications, including several in Nature and Science. Professor Bai contributed to four major international assessments as a Lead Author, including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Global Energy Assessment, IPBES Global Assessment, and IPCC AR6.

She has played leadership roles in many international science initiatives, including served as member of Science Committee of Future Earth and the Vice Chair of the Science Committee of the International Human Dimensional Program for Global Environmental Change (IHDP). She is a Co-Chair of Future Earth Urban Knowledge-Action Network. She is a Deputy Editor of Global Sustainability, and serves on the Editorial Board of eight other international journals.

Professor Bai is a Fellow of Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia since 2017, and was named as one of the World's 100 Most Influential People in Climate Change Policy in 2019. She is the 2018 Laureate of the prestigious Volvo Environment Prize.


Joëlle Gergis
Dr Joëlle Gergis is an award-winning climate scientist and writer from the Australian National University. She is an internationally recognised expert in Australian and Southern Hemisphere climate variability and change based in the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes. Her research focuses on providing a long-term historical context for assessing recently observed climate variability and extremes.

In 2013 Dr Gergis was awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) fellowship, and her team won the 2014 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research - informally known as the 'Oscars of Australian Science'.

In 2015 Joëlle was awarded the Dean's Award for Excellence in Research in the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne. In February 2018, she was selected to serve as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report - a global, state-of-the art review of climate change science.

In August 2018 she was appointed to the Climate Council, Australia's leading independent body providing expert advice to the Australian public on climate change and policy. Her book, Sunburnt Country: The future and history of climate change in Australia, is now available through Melbourne University Publishing.


Tayanah O'Donnell
Tayanah O'Donnell is a lawyer and social scientist, and currently Director of Future Earth Australia, the Oceania node for the global Future Earth research network. In addition to her ANU affiliation she is also a Visiting Principal Research Fellow with the Centre for Urban Research, in the School for Global, Urban and Social Studies, at RMIT University.

She previously worked as a Research Fellow with the University of Canberra, Australia (2013-2018). Building on her research career that commenced in 2009 at the Urban Research Centre at Western Sydney University, Tayanah’s research is primarily situated in the legal geography field, where she examines the geo-legalities and intersections between property, place, law, and climate change adaptation. She has a strong interdisciplinary track record, utilising her legal skills and social research expertise to contribute to current debates relating to the social, political, and legal consequences of climate change impacts.

Tayanah has lectured in law, land use planning, and in the social sciences generally since 2008. She commenced her academic career at Western Sydney University, where she completed an LLB and BSSc (Hons), a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, and her Ph.D. She has lectured and tutored in law at the Australian National University in legal theory, contract law, and equity and trusts law, and in the urban planning program at the University of Canberra.

During 2006-2009, she worked as a solicitor specialising in environment and planning litigation in Sydney, Australia, and spent 2009-10 working as a researcher for Justice Sheahan AO in the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales. She currently the convenor for the Institute of Australian Geographers Legal Geography Study Group.