April 8, 2021 – Speakers agreed that while responses to the COVID-19 pandemic can lead to a future that includes an increased usage in green energy, the acceleration of climate change may also create more pandemic threats, during a virtual discussion hosted by the University of Houston Law Center's Initiative on Global Law and Policy and the University of Bologna Center for Latin American Studies.
"Lessons from COVID-19 for Sustainability: Health and Climate Change,” was the third event in a six-part series, also co-sponsored by the American Society of International Law-Latin America Interest Group. The UH Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Center also joined in co-sponsoring this event. The webinar series is being co-organized by GLPA founding director Elizabeth Trujillo, the Law Center's Mary Ann & Lawrence E. Faust Professor of Law, and Sabrina Ragone, a Professor of Comparative Law at the University of Bologna.
Daniel Farber, the Sho Sato Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Center for Law, Energy, & the Environment at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, served as the webinar’s keynote speaker. Pedro Villarreal, Senior Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany provided additional commentary.
In his remarks, Farber said international institutions can and should engage in cooperation to respond to global crises, but are not yet strong enough to provide global leadership, especially without the backing of the most powerful countries to provide support and influence.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that climate, environment and human wellbeing are interconnected.
"Coronavirus caused a major drop in emissions, although they're moving higher again," Farber said. "The economic crisis creates an opportunity for a ʽGreen Recoveryʼ that could really advance climate action, which would also be good for public health.
"COVID fits a pattern we've been seeing with climate change for a while with individual jurisdictions taking the lead. Both climate change and COVID, like many other problems that we face in the world, highlight the need to strengthen international institutions."
Commenting on Farber's talk, Villarreal said that the impact of climate change may expand the range of infectious diseases that affect humans, and pointed to a direct link between climate change and pandemic risks.
"One of the main sources, if not the main source of pandemics in humans, are the so-called zoonotic diseases - diseases that jump between species," Villarreal said. "With climate change there's also a growing body of evidence that shows if climate change continues down this path, it will cause non-human animals to migrate from their current environments. These non-human animals may be disease carriers and may bring these diseases to the human interface.
"The drivers of risk in climate change and pandemics are directly related to human activities. There is an increasing realization in the medical and public health community that the way we as humans interact with non-human animals and the environment as a whole is a key driver of pandemic risk,” Villareal continued.
“Whether it's in the trade of wildlife, deforestation, agricultural expansion or indeed climate change, human activity is increasing the exposure to environmental and health threats."
The following debates focused on the role of experts in the management of international crisis, as well as the role of global and domestic actors in the planning and implementation of climate- and health-related measures.
The remaining schedule for the speaker series, "Constitutionalism, Trade, Social Justice, and Sustainability in the Americas: Lessons from the 2020 Global Pandemic," and registration information can be found below: