25 February 2021 - 26 February 2021

Climate judo: how can the impact of the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis be turned into effective action on climate change?

Terms of Reference

A huge quantity of scientific evidence testifies that climate change is the gravest and most existential long-term threat to global stability and is already impacting here and now on people’s lives. But the immediate danger of the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis means that the odds are stacked against governments finding the political will, popular support and energy to take the steps needed to bring climate change under control. That said, the pandemic has also created a moment of imbalance, a shaking of the rigidity of the way things are, that might open up possibilities for rapid change. How can the momentum of pandemic action be used, judo-style, to throw us forward into effective action on climate? How can we make 2021 a turning point so that the roaring twenties see us take leap after leap forward on climate?

Finding the political will and popular energy

The Biden Administration has appointed Secretary John Kerry to lead on climate change and made clear that the US will re-engage as global leaders on climate action. What can be done to make action on climate change easier for the developing world so that the problem of industrialisation is addressed at the outset? How can the US and China work together to accelerate action? Within the democratic world how can the issue of climate action be further depoliticised so that parties across the political spectrum support urgent action?

How can populations in different countries be motivated to take action on climate change when they are exhausted and irritated by the impact of Covid restrictions? What will citizens need to do? How can action on climate change be made to feel like the pursuit of freedom, not restraint? What is the right balance between campaigning and collaboration with governments and companies to drive change? Climate action means tackling a chronic issue through systemic change – something that it is always difficult to do politically. How can politicians, business and public be aligned, and action sustained over time? What is the role for climate education and climate training?

Anger at racial injustice was a striking feature of 2020. The impact of climate change is being felt most keenly by indigenous people and the global south, although its effects are also apparent in Australia, California and of course in the Arctic. Can and should a campaign for racial justice in American cities lead to demands for equal regard for the lives and prospects of marginalised communities around the world? How can it be stressed that sustainability and equity are complementary values?

Finding the money and developing a sustainable economy

National governments and the EU have launched unprecedented economic relief and stimulus packages in response to the pandemic crisis, dwarfing the response to the 2008 financial crisis. This has been financed by unprecedented borrowing, enabled by ultra-low or negative interest rates. Moving to a more sustainable green economy may save money in the long term but transition will require upfront investment. How can economic recovery and relief from the impact of the pandemic be shaped to drive investment in a sustainable economy? How can the rethinking of supply chains, driven by geopolitical tensions and the pandemic, be shaped to deliver a more sustainable global economy? How can forced changes in consumer behaviour, often felt as restriction and denial, be repurposed to deliver more sustainability and circularity in the economy? What does this mean for energy, travel, food, manufacturing and retail sectors? What levers can the financial sector pull to drive investment in innovation and sustainable development?

What can governments do? How does geopolitical competition play into development of a sustainable economy? What is the role for carbon tariffs on imports or other devices to drive a common approach?

Learning the right lessons from the pandemic on technology and innovation

The pandemic has made science matter for everyone and placed it at the centre of the political debate. Although governments have been forced into age old quarantine measures, many lives lost and economies severely damaged, science and technology have transformed what would otherwise have been a much worse situation. The Internet, video conferencing and other communications technologies have kept work, families and innovation connected. Digital tracking has played an important role in limiting the spread of the disease in many countries, both authoritarian and democratic. And an incredible international effort has produced multiple effective vaccines against a complex novel virus in less than a year. What are the right lessons for tackling climate change from our experiences in the pandemic? How can we build on the renewed credibility and centrality of science? Given the grave risks, what can we do to drive innovation across multiple fronts simultaneously and scale up global investment in climate action technologies? How can restoration of the health of the ocean be folded into effective action on climate?

Is there a risk of too much faith in technology and innovation – for example direct carbon extraction from the atmosphere – and, if so, how do we manage this? What is the right balance between demanding difficult action of individual citizens and companies on the one hand and radical investment in technology on the other? It is worth noting of course that both were required in response to the pandemic. Is it time for a maximalist strategy on climate – pulling all the levers at once? And if so, how could that be delivered politically?

For the middle section of the conference we will split into three working groups in order to allow more detailed discussion of the three sets of issues above. It is accepted that there will be overlap between the groups as clearly the different elements in this systemic change challenge are closely connected. To take account of the different time zones for participants in this global conversation, there will also be sessions focusing on different regions of the world.