On Monday 16 November, Project Cygnus kicked off London Climate Action Week with a focus on a net-zero economic recovery from Covid-19. The discussion included partners,Arup, the Global Open Finance Centre for Excellence (GOFCoE) at The University of Edinburgh, University College Dublin (UCD), ODI Leeds and Allegory Communications. Here are some key takeaways:

SMEs bear the brunt

With larger companies better equipped to absorb financial shocks, the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 has fallen disproportionately on the SME sector. In an examination of this, GOFCoE has been able to access closed SME level data from banks and cloud accounting platforms while UCD assessed the impact of Covid-19 on SMEs across green, grey and brown industries using open business registry and investment data.

Using a time horizon of January 2015 to September 2020, UCD’s findings highlight the resilience of green business. Declared a pandemic in April of this year, Covid-19 caused a sharp decline in incorporations in both brown and green industries, yet green incorporations were able to recover at a much faster rate. This resilience shows that a green economic recovery from Covid-19 is not only vital for the future of the planet but also suggests that a green recovery makes economic sense.


The pandemic has led to the disruption of urbanisation patterns and according to Lean Doody, Integrated Cities & Planning Leader at Arup, the communities, amenities and services that form these urban environments will influence the lifestyles that will prevail in our post-pandemic future.

But, what will a post-pandemic future look like? Project Cygnus and partners outlined a common trend towards localisation with a recent survey conducted by YouGov echoing this pattern. The survey found that 80 percent of typically office-based employees that have worked from home during lockdown felt their appreciation of the home and local community increase with 24 percent of office-based employees looking to avoid a normal office space in the future.

This shift in work patterns could have significant ramifications on the heat emissions stemming from households as well as on emissions from public transportation. But when framing policy recommendations, Project Cygnus research director, Nick Tyrone wanted to identify policies that worked regardless of future working patterns, “I didn’t want to make huge assumptions about working patterns after the crisis or during the potentially long tail of Covid-19,” he said.

Policy recommendations

Alongside the ability to work regardless of future work patterns, Project Cygnus’ policy recommendations centre around three other criteria; cross-spectrum political support, ‘bang for buck’ and job creation. This framework, coupled with the input from the partners has helped to shape Project Cygnus’ three policy recommendations – retrofitting of housing stock, encouraging the development of sustainable transport, and a push for better data infrastructure.

With substantial backing from Arup’s data on cities and ODI Leeds’ prototype tool measuring the Energy Performance Certificate status of housing stock in the UK, Project Cygnus’ policy recommendation on the retrofitting of housing stock was also reflected in the event’s interactive poll – 76 percent of participants believed house retrofitting at city or regional level was an area to be prioritised in order to ensure a net-zero recovery.

Cooperation is key

As we move forward and the climate crisis looms overhead, Project Cygnus and partners are continuing to develop analytics, tooling and policy recommendations to navigate the choppy seas of a net-zero Covid-19 recovery. But, within this, the value of cooperation and collaboration in creating this recovery has become evident. Our interactive polls help to broaden this collaboration into the public sphere as well as enabling people to break through abstract concepts and understand tangible examples of green economic recovery policy and data.

For another net-zero Covid-19 economic recovery discussion, please join us on 26 November to hear from a panel that spans the political spectrum to find out what governments in the UK and Ireland and their oppositions think are the best ways to combine recovering the economy with meeting net-zero targets. Register for free here.