02 March, 2021

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

Conference dates: 25-26 February 2021

This conference set out to ask whether the recovery from the pandemic can be made to push and pull forward global climate action, using the counterweight of economic recovery to drive the global green revolution the world needs. 

The Hon. John F. Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate introduced the conference, delivering a strong and uncompromising call for all nations of the world to raise ambition and commit to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees centigrade. COP26, as many participants agreed, is the last best hope to get on track. There is much to get right in Glasgow in November and all nations must raise ambition together – or we will all fail, together.

The conference made an equally strong appeal not to waste the singular opportunity we have as we emerge from the global pandemic to transform economies and deliver what was described as the greatest revolution in human history. Investment in green technology, infrastructure, transportation, and energy supported by governments and delivered by the private sector could change the quality of life for the better across the world. This can be done faster and more effectively than many expect.

Communication technology allowed Ditchley to bring a diverse group of people together from 20 countries across the world, and it also allowed reporting via satellite directly from a vessel on the Indian Ocean. We heard a first-hand account of the environmental damage caused by new kinds of large-scale resource extraction, unregulated and illegal fishing, plastics and other pollution and the risks to ocean health upon which planetary climate stability depends.

The conference explored resources of political will and popular energy post-pandemic; the funds and form for a sustainable economy; and the lessons we’ve learned on innovation and technology. We heard perspectives on pandemic recovery from the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and from regions within the UK on how responding to climate change now needs to run through the core of all policy and action. 

If we can do it for COVID-19, then we can do it for climate: the sense was that pandemic responses had, at least, pointed the way.  The response to COVID-19 has demonstrated that action that makes a difference can be taken, but that now is the time to do everything - to throw the kitchen sink at it and to pull all levers. 

The conference wrestled over the primacy of the role of government or the private sector. It asked whether the focus be on young people to lead us out, or on consumers to drive change? Will global cooperation be an overarching priority, and will a recognition of interconnectedness deliver the right vantage point for action? There was agreement that all have a role and that these networks and approaches are interdependent. All must act to achieve the goals of Paris. Most arguments have a degree of validity. We cannot wait for perfect deconflicted answers before we implement action.


The Director’s Conference Note will follow shortly.

The terms of reference of the conference can be found here.