Across the world countries are trying to simultaneously deal with two of society’s biggest ever challenges: climate change and a global pandemic. The opening day of Climate Exp0 focused on a Green Recovery bringing together discussions of these two major issues and exploring the social, political and technical challenges, along with the opportunities, for revitalising our economies while also addressing carbon emission reductions.
The pandemic and climate change share many parallels — both are costing lives and livelihoods, and both emanate from a global economic system where we are pushing and breaking planetary sustainability boundaries. Across the day we heard from policymakers, academic researchers, practitioners and activists, who each shone a light on a different aspect of a Green Recovery and demonstrated how the response to the pandemic can be a vector that addresses climate change.
All the sessions are available on demand, but as chair and leads for the day, here are our five summary key takeaway points and our synthesis of the day.
Intertwine social, environmental and economic goals
It became increasingly clear throughout the day that delivering a green recovery requires a breakaway from historical economic models focused solely on GDP and growth. To deliver meaningful change, economic goals must be considered alongside environmental and social goals, and there is a need to redefine success through a broader wellbeing economy lens.
This was especially noted in the Socially equitable Green Recovery session, where Wai Lok Cheung reiterated the human dependence on nature and hence the need to stop relying on solely monetary aims. Moreover, in the Economy-wide impacts of green recovery session, Daniele Malerba stressed that social protection is critical in making a global energy transition just and inclusive.
Timothy Foxon stressed integrating these social and environmental goals from the beginning as key for a socially just and equitable green recovery, and Julia Wdowin added that measuring the value of these more elusive goals would be one step towards bringing them into policy. This was reflected in the day’s Closing policy panel, which discussed the importance of aligning climate action and ambition with wider priorities in order to enhance uptake and impact.
Include and engage everyone
The Closing policy panel also reminded us that delivering a just transition and addressing inequalities must go beyond just focusing on the distribution of costs and benefits, but must also inspire, engage, and enable more widespread participation, particularly from those voices that can often be underrepresented.
On this theme, in the Inclusivity session, Laura Sandys stressed that inclusivity is not a nice-to-have, but essential to accelerate our joint ability to deliver the right measures. Katherine Lee stressed that adolescents care deeply and are angry about intergenerational injustice, reminding us to listen to the voices of the youth.
In the Engagement and Participation session, Chamu Kuppuswamy noted that ensuring a sustainable equitable green recovery needs a focus and promotion of equality and diversity best achieved by engaging young people from diverse backgrounds in meaningful ways. Daniel Clay stressed the importance of meaningful public dialogue — an informed, balanced and equitable discussion between people reflective of the society — in helping to inform the policy, business and societal responses to the climate emergency.
Address the global challenges at a local level
The role of local in the green recovery was a recurring theme across the day, with a spotlight and focus on this theme in the Closing policy panel discussion. Louise Smith in the Opening policy panel debate also highlighted the role of Universities working locally with small and medium sized enterprises, and identified this as being a key element of delivering net zero in regions across the world.
In the Place-based solutions session, Neil Jennings highlighted that a place-based approach to a green recovery can take account of local circumstances and embed the principles of a ‘Just Transition’. And in the Closing policy panel it was reiterated that local is really important as local governments know their communities and context. This focus therefore provides a platform for more meaningful engagement with a wider proportion of the population. Addressing the green recovery and climate action on the local level also helps to realise the co-benefits: addressing wider environmental issues, social inequalities, building local supply chains, and building resilience.
However, changes in our policy frameworks are needed to ensure the success. We need to implement frameworks that would enable, commit, and oblige action whilst also implementing multi-level governance structures, where power and agency for action are situated at the right level. We also need to address funding, its security, make sure that those who can act are empowered to do so, and that we can de-risk investment and start to build sustainable and good jobs.
Start acting now
It was also extensively noted that there already is an extensive amount of research available to foster and build a net zero transition, and what is now needed is the development and policy-based action.
The Solution Stars session presented numerous technical solutions for green recovery, with an important key takeaway from Patricia Thornley highlighting the need to avoid analysis-paralysis of looking for optimal and best, and get on to do things that are sure to make a positive difference.
In the Opening Policy Panel Chris Skidmore noted that we do lots of R&D — Research and Development — in the UK, and we are great at the R, but need to do more of the D to meet net-zero, and suggested really quite simple changes to the way in which innovation funding works to give funders longer-term flexibility in how they support innovation processes. Louise Smith highlighted the role of Universities in engaging with regions and driving skills needs, and Chris Skidmore agreed highlighting that Universities are becoming anchor institutions in their region, and can be global beacons of the net-zero journey.
Teach for the better tomorrow
Finally, the importance of education and quick adaptation of the curriculum with the changing times was a strongly recurring theme. In the Opening Policy Panel Sharan Burrow stressed the need in making sure teachers are skilled for the new curricula, while Simon Kemp spoke on how to embed Sustainable Development Goals into Universities — both the curricula and the culture.
In the Inclusivity session Ruth McKie stressed that education, and diversity in education, are key for inclusive society, while Katherine Lee highlighted that expanding climate change across the curriculum and teaching it at an earlier stage is needed. In the Place-based solutions session Henrietta Moore noted that better understanding of intergenerational justice, whole-system change and complex intersections are needed for the next generation, while Lynda Wookey agreed that change in curricula could bring a two-way benefit of teaching and engaging the young generation about the local government and their goals, as well as bringing their ideas and input back to local governments through projects.
The day provided much debate and thought and highlighted pathways to net zero through action. Positives were drawn from how global societies have responded to the pandemic, where science and innovation has saved lives and livelihoods and is protecting societies from COVID through the development and deployment of a suite of viable vaccines. The pandemic has also shown how we can come together as a global community and respond to global challenges and shown successes where application of science has been used to foster effective policy responses. We can, and must, do the same in response to the climate crisis.
Climate Exp0 is the first virtual conference from the COP26 Universities Network and the Italian University Network for Sustainable Development (RUS), sponsored by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Cambridge University Press, the Conference of Italian University Rectors (CRUI), and the 2021 UN Climate Change Summit (COP26).
Run from 17–21 May 2021, it takes place at a critical juncture in the COP26 pre-meetings and negotiations, and is part of the All4Climate Italy 2021 official pre-COP26 initiatives. Learn more via https://www.climateexp0.org.