Cities, Climate and Pandemics:

Reflections from Urban Studies and Environmental Economics



Tuesday, 19 January 2021, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.




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Starting in the early twentieth century, rapid urbanisation has become one of the dominant demographic trends of our times, driving the interrelated issues of climate change and public health issues. This year the Academia Europaea – Barcelona Knowledge Hub (AE-BKH) has been a close collaborator of the Barcelona City Council on its recently published Barcelona Science Plan 2020-2023, outlining strategic municipal policies for bridging science and society in a variety of areas, including the ongoing climate crisis. Thus, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and its widespread social impact, the AE-BKH has decided to devote the 2020 edition of its Disputatio of Barcelona annual debates to “Cities, Climate and Pandemics: Reflections from Urban Studies and Environmental Economics”. The session will focussed on the essential role of cities in climate change mitigation and in the control of pandemics such as COVID-19. Barcelona, along with other major metropolises in the world, will provide for an interesting analysis.


Disputantes: Urbanist Prof. Kathrin Golda-Pongratz, MAE, UIC Barcelona School of Architecture; and environmental economist Prof. Jeroen van den Bergh, ICREA Research Professor, ICTA-UAB. Coordinator and convenor: Prof. Alexander Fidora, MAE, ICREA Research Professor, Department of Ancient and Medieval Studies, UAB.

The session, free of charge, was held live via Zoom.

Introduction to “Cities, Climate and Pandemics”

COVID-19 has altered our daily life in an unparalleled way, making us keenly aware of the need for a change in paradigm rooted in resilience and sustainability and permeating all systems. The current pandemic has highlighted how vulnerable our society is to newly emerging diseases, particularly those of zoonotic transmission, which have been linked to habitat destruction resulting from human activity. Similarly, the impact of widespread lockdowns enacted around the world in response to COVID-19 has been strongly felt on many levels: environmental, social and economic. In consequence, the rapid urbanisation and economic and population growth characterising our times are challenged as unsustainable, as they represent key factors identified in the degradation and/or loss of biodiversity and natural habitats, which is responsible in part for climate change and the origin and spread of pandemics.

As UNESCO states in its document Urban Solutions: Learning from cities’ responses to COVID-19’: The multidimensional nature of the pandemic has left an indelible mark on the outlook of the cities and has led to rethinking cities’ development in different dimensions – social, cultural, economic, and environmental. Being at the forefront, cities have played a central role in the global response to the ongoing pandemic.

Cities, in this sense, play an essential role, as they provide the basic structures for where and how we live, work, move and communicate, as well as for how we manage issues such as land use and sanitation, all of which directly affect public health. How can cities become more resilient and sustainable, in order to mitigate climate change and to prevent and/or control pandemics like the one that we are currently dealing with? What lessons are provided by fields such as urban studies and environmental economics, regarding what kind of policies to adopt? Who are the major stakeholders in changing the current paradigm of city planning, and how can consensus be reached among them about what strategy or strategies to employ?

Coordinated and moderated by Prof. Alexander Fidora, MAE, ICREA Research Professor in the Department of Ancient and Medieval Studies, UAB, this debate attempted to shed new light on the aforementioned questions by bringing together experts from different fields: urbanist Prof. Kathrin Golda-Pongratz, MAE, UIC Barcelona School of Architecture; and environmental economist Prof. Jeroen van den Bergh, ICREA Research Professor, ICTA-UAB. We turn to our home city, Barcelona, along with other major metropolises in the world, in our search of examples to analyse.

Our end goal is to push the interrelated issues of city planning, climate change and pandemics to the forefront of the public agenda, and to begin to find the tools necessary to face the challenges that these issues pose to citizens locally and globally.



Kathrin Golda-Pongratz, architect, urbanist and urban researcher, is a professor at the UIC Barcelona School of Architecture and recently an associate professor at the Department of Urban and Territorial Planning at the UPC-BarcelonaTech. She lectures and publishes internationally. Her research focuses on urban memory, urban culture(s) and public space, postcolonial urbanization, non-formal urbanism and place-making strategies. Her book (with J.L. Oyón and V. Zimmermann), John F C Turner. Autoconstrucción. Por una autonomía del habitar (Pepitas de Calabaza, 2018), was distinguished with the 2019 FAD Award (Thought and Criticism). Her documentary film, Ciudad Infinita –Voces de El Ermitaño (2018), portrays a self-built neighbourhood and ecological threats through urbanization in Lima, Peru. Her experience expands into curating and cultural transmission, and she currently curates the programme, Paradigma Mur. Berlín – Barcelona 1989-2019 / 1961-2021, at El Born CCM. She served as president of the jury for the 2019 City of Barcelona Prize in Architecture and Urban Planning. She is a member of the Institut dels Passats Presents (IPP) created by the Barcelona City Council, of Deutscher Werkbund (dwb), of the German Academy of Urban and Regional Planning (DASL) and of Academia Europaea (AE).


Jeroen van den Bergh is ICREA Professor at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (2007–present), and honorary full Professor of Environmental Economics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (1997–present). His current research is on the interface of environmental economics, energy-climate studies and behavioural sciences. He is founding Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. He is the recipient of various prizes, including the Royal/Shell Prize 2002 for Sustainability Research, the Institute for Catalan Studies (IEC) 2011 Sant Jordi Environmental Prize, and an honorary doctorate from the Open University in the Netherlands. He currently leads an ERC Advanced Grant on the topic “Behavioural-evolutionary analysis of climate policy – bounded rationality, markets and social interactions”. His latest book is Human Evolution beyond Biology and Culture: Evolutionary Social, Environmental and Policy Sciences, published by Cambridge University Press. Recent articles examine a transition path to global carbon pricing and the role of cities in combatting climate change.

You can access the video of the event HERE.