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Energy scholars describe pandemic's impact on energy transition at UH Law Center's 2nd Annual Global Energy Law and Policy webinar

June 7, 2021 - Experts emphasized how the spread of the coronavirus exacerbated and magnified energy emergencies at the 2nd Annual Global Energy Law and Policy Symposium, "The Energy Transition in a COVID Altered World." The conference was part of the Energy Transition and Governance series, sponsored by the European Union through its Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant and the efforts of UH EENR Fellow (and Universite de Lyon III professor) Aubin Nzaou.

The opening topic, "Governing the Energy Transition: Between Momentum and Convergence of Crises," was moderated by George Butler Research Professor Gina Warren, co-director of the EENR Center.

The first speaker was Tracy-Lynn Field of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who discussed energy transitions in a COVID-disrupted Africa. With African nations placing an emphasis on healthcare during the pandemic, the continent's energy transition future appears murky.

“There is consensus that the pandemic has increased Africa's already debilitating debt burden,” Field said. “This increased debt burden has made the prospect of borrowing money for energy infrastructure development even more difficult.”

“It fits in the checkbox of so many parameters,” Sen said. “Health is not only having vaccinations, medicine or oxygen,” Sen said. “Health is having clean air that comes from reduced greenhouse gases and even more lethal global warming gases. It is proven that nuclear energy (can more than double) reduce these emissions.”

The third presentation, "The Problematic Recomposition of the Environment: The Case of Energy Transitions in the Face of the Conjunction of Crises" was delivered by Louis De Fontenelle an Associate Professor at the University of Pau and Pays de l'Adour. He emphasized the need for structural recomposition of the law to confront the structural scope of numerous crises.

“The notion of resilience is in interesting in the context of energy transition,” De Fontenelle said. “In this framework the law can help a system to be resilience and withstand and overcome crisis. The objective is to conduct this energy transition model, while designing it in such a way that is crisis-resistant.”

Associate Professor Bernadette Le Baut-Ferrarese, a professor at Jean Moulin University Lyon 3 in Lyon, France, concluded the first panel with her discussion titled, “The Place of Nuclear Power in the Energy Transition. EU Law between Ambivalence and Ambiguity.”

“The EU law is interested in the use of nuclear energy, so it's not absent from discussions, including in the context of the energy transition,” Le Baut-Ferrarese said. “On the other hand, the EU law is in retreat in regards to the interest of nuclear energy, and the EU has taken a back seat on the question of the value of nuclear energy for the energy transition.”

The second panel, “Governing the Energy Transition: Between Efforts, Ambitions and Diverse Approaches,” was moderated by Dwight Olds Chair in Law Victor Flatt, co-director of the EENR Center. Professor Tom Morenhout of Columbia University began the panel with his presentation, “Key Energy Transition Needs and How COVID-19 Recovery Packages are Performing.”

“Sustainable development scenarios are far away in terms of emissions reductions,” Morenhout said. “The recovery from COVID has seen increases in energy use, increased fossil fuel use and has increased carbon emissions as well.

“If our goal is to move from fossil fuels to sustainable energy system, coal needs to be reduced by a whole lot. The reduction needs to be far more extreme. Oil is similar. What countries have committed to now is a positive trend.”

The second speaker, Professor Sanya Carley of Indiana University, discussed energy insecurity in the U.S., where she analyzed sociodemographic disparities in household energy insecurity before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Energy insecurity is defined as the inability to meet one's household energy needs.

“This is a problem that is pervasive around the entire world,” Carley said. “It affects and kills people on a daily basis. There's reason to believe that during the pandemic there would be deeper incidents of energy insecurity. There is a need for policy assistance and protections, including a solution to those with mounting debt.”

Professor Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University was the third speaker, in her presentation, “Diversifying Power: Why We Need Antiracist, Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy,” based on her book by the same name.

“What the pandemic revealed is the depths of our systemic problems, and also provides a disruption that calls for us to accelerate our work toward a larger transformation in society,” Stephens said. “We need different kind of leadership, because if we keep with the same mindset that we've had for the past 20 to 30 years, we can't expect anything different.

“What I think we need is a really different kind of leadership that acknowledges the power dynamics and acknowledges that we have all kinds of policies, practices and processes that intentionally give advantages to some and disadvantages to others. If we acknowledge how our energy system is part of that, then we can bring a very different kind of leadership that leads us to different kind of energy policies that accelerate the transition.”

The concluding speakers were Alfonso López de la Osa Escribano, Director of the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law and a Law Center adjunct professor, and Nzaou, who presented on, "Non-State Actors and Climate Litigation in the Energy Transition,” with a special reference to French jurisprudence.

López de la Osa Escribano pointed to multiple pieces of legislation, from before and after the spread of the coronavirus, that demonstrate France as one of the most active countries in the implementation of climate change policies and is ambitious in terms of the international agenda. However, there are difficulties that were elaborated on by Nzaou.

“Energy transition issues are present in French courtrooms by means of climate litigation,” Nzaou said. “At the outset this poses new challenges to the French administrative judges. They do not have independent expertise in the field and they mostly rely on facts admitted between parties.

“Another layer of the complexity comes from the cluster of applicants including a coalition of actors such as NGOs, individuals and other grassroots pressure outside the courtroom. It also appears French administrative judges are facing many types of claims, including preventative and proactive claims, but also claims in reparation of ecological damage.”

Click here to watch the 2nd Annual Global Energy Law and Policy Symposium, "The Energy Transition in a COVID Altered World,” in its entirety.

The next speaker in the series is Professor Lisa Benjamin of the Lewis & Clark Law School, who will deliver her remarks at 10 a.m. June 17. Prior speakers in the webinar series are Professor Uma Outka of the University of Kansas School of Law, Professor Joshua Galperin of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Professor Alexandra Klass of University of Minnesota Law School, Professor Lee Paddock of the George Washington University School of Law and Professor Roy Partain of the University of Aberdeen School of Law.

Click here for a list of future and previous presentations.

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