Research Unit Sustainability and Climate Policy
Prof. Dr. Dr. Felix Ekardt, LL.M., M.A.
The CBD as well as (national and transnational) human rights contain an obligation to halt biodiversity loss since 1993 at the latest, which has been continuously violated ever since. Governments can also be sued on this basis. We show this in a new international paper: here.
Even with zero fossil fuels and greatly reduced animal husbandry, residual emissions remain that must be compensated - even if sufficiency can make this amount of emissions smaller than the IPCC assumes. This requires above all the regulation of forests and peatlands (which are also central to biodiversity protection). Here, economic instruments and regulatory law relate to each other differently than they often do. Three international articles explore this - on forests, on peatlands and on the very problematic large-scale BECCSand other kinds of geoengineering.
German and EU climate policy is contrary to international law and constitutional human rights. Even the unambitious targets themselves are illegal. More on this in our new legal analysis, including critical perspectives on IPCC AR6 here. In April 2021, we won a groundbreaking lawsuit at the German Constitutional Court. See on this in Nature Climate Change, in The Environment and Sustainability.
The existing legal framework on P is strongly characterized by detailed command-and-control provisions and thus suffers from governance problems such as enforcement deficits, rebound and shifting effects. Our new paper focuses on how these challenges could be addressed by economic instruments. The article highlights not only the impact of the instruments on P management, but also on adjacent environmental areas. We pay particular attention to the governance effects on reaching international binding climate and biodiv goals: here.
The production of animal food products is (besides fossil fuels) one of the most important noxae with regard to many of the environmental problems, such as climate change, biodiversity loss or globally disrupted nutrient cycles. This paper provides a qualitative governance analysis of which regulatory options there are to align livestock farming with the legally binding environmental objectives, in particular the Paris Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity: here.
Issues of land use (see respective section) and resource politics as a whole have been other areas of intensive research, besides energy and climate issues. Special attention is attributed to phosphorus (see section in land use) which is subject of some (long-term) projects since 2015. The overarching interest boils down to developing common governance approaches for different environmental problems which will not lose (at least parts of) their effectiveness to governance problems such as shifting and rebound effects.
Forests and peatlands have played a major role for some time - especially because the climate issue (negative emissions!) and the biodiversity issue overlap in this respect.
Two new research projects for the German Federal Government deal with plastics on the one hand and with ocean acidification on the other hand.
Another recent publication is the final report of a Bundestag-funded project on economic assessment and instruments for nature conservation (in German). Together with Wuppertal Institute, the Research Unit has proposed a (moderate and realistic) improvement of international resource politics.
Furthermore, strategies for sustainability raise the question of local and federal starting points despite good reasons for national and European approaches. This has been analyzed by the Research Unit on various occasions. Another question regards the value of combining scattered approaches to sustainability in a coherent legal framework. Codification of environmental law – again rather on European than on national level – makes sense for different reasons. The failed attempt of creating a German Environmental Code (UGB) was first and foremost paper intensive as the requirements are as numerous as divers. Targets include friendliness to investors and civil society; legal certainty; avoiding a race to the bottom concerning environmental standards; and thereby consolidated environmental protection. This would require as many complete rules as possible; as little Länder-deviations as possible; and integration of as many parts of environmental law as possible. This seems not realistic at the moment which is why the question ‘UGB or not UGB’ only had minor environmental relevance. However the debate about the UGB is in some ways typical for the German (and European) debate around environmental law: Much attention is paid to symbolic questions and detail aspects of law interpretation, like the new law on nature protection and water which was passed instead of the UGB. The crucial general question of targets as well as the question of how much of good intention will remain in enforcement fall behind.