Climate action by state and non-state actors has become increasingly urgent, if the world is to limit long-term global warming below planetary thresholds that define the safe operating space for humanity. Yet, existing government commitments are still insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change, with global average temperatures expected to reach 3-4C by the end of the century.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and ensuing global economic downturn, may further affect capacity, political will and support for climate action, as both state and non-state actors seek a rapid economic recovery. For instance, an economic downturn could incentivise a ‘green recovery’ with new types of climate action and experimentation that ultimately will help to stabilise the climate and increase resilience to climate impacts. However, the current crisis could also see the entrenchment of carbon lock-ins, setting the world on course for even more dangerous levels of climate change.

Since March 2020, Earth System Governance Project scholars and experts have been gathering in the ‘Working Group on Economic Downturn and Climate Action’ (EDCA) to identify research needs and options to strengthen climate action during challenging times. Through a participatory process, the EDCA working group has raised key knowledge gaps and research questions, which are addressed in sub-working groups. These sub-working groups, respectively discuss (1) economic downturn and options to avoid new carbon lock-ins, and a to lock-in green and socially just recovery pathways; (2) the role of business in climate action during and after the pandemic; (3) changes in multilateral funding and development cooperation for the sustainable development goals; and, (4) the role of social science in supporting a green recovery.