Recent Publications and Speeches


Stopping Biodiversity Loss, Human Rights, and International Environmental Law

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.

Negative Emissions: Forests, Peatlands - and Geoengineering?

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.

Paris Target, Human Rights, and our Groundbreaking Constitutional Court Verdict on Unambitious Climate Protection and Precautionary Principle

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.

Economic Instruments for Phosphorus Governance - Climate and Biodiv Targets

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.

Land Use, Livestock, Quantity Governance, and Economic Instruments

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.

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Growth, Degrowth, Economics, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Frugality

For its analysis of governance structures and instruments, the Research Unit is strongly aware of findings in economic. Demanding quantity governance instruments on a broad substantial and geographical scale to solve problems of sustainability in energy/ climate, resources, land use and many more is a result of a discourse with economic ideas, despite the many differences. These and the following points are analysed in detail in Sustainability: Transformation, Governance, Ethics, Law by Felix Ekardt, published with Springer Nature.

In many publications and projects, the debate on degrowth plays a crucial role. The Research Unit takes neither the position of economic mainstream which maintains that growth is easily compatible with sustainability and without limits possible in a finite world. Nor is it against economic growth per se on grounds of it necessarily being socially unjust and fostering unhappiness. Defenders of the latter position reject technical (and growth compatible!) solutions in environmental politics too easily. However, thinking long-term shows that improved technologies, like renewable resources and more resource efficiency will – probably – not (alone!) suffice to establish a global and durable sustainable livelihood. If however effective environmental protection implies behavior change (sufficiency) and thus a non- or degrowth economy, it is necessary to develop (1) a “final” scenario and (2) a roadmap for the difficult transition. Because so far, modern societies heavily depend on growth regarding employment, state budget, banking system and in enterprises (maybe even for financing of technical innovation). These questions are currently wantonly neglected.

For a long time, the critique of central background assumptions of environmental economics and approaches of environmental sociology and political science has been on the agenda of the Research Unit. Climate change serves as an example. We aim at showing that cost-benefit analysis, which economists use to ‘calculate’ the optimum climate policy (as they do it in other policy areas), are structurally insufficient. Hence, they are often unable to fulfil their promises regarding scientific insights. Climate economics gives the impression of being rational. Yet, it cannot meet this demand because it inserts inaccurate or substantially incomplete normative and descriptive assumptions into their efficiency calculations, among others:

Despite all criticism, it remains the importance of complementary use of economic fact findings in order to help legal-political decision making. Felix Ekardt has finalized his second dissertation in philosophy on criticism of economic evaluation as a method in 2018; an English version is available with Springer Nature since 2022: Economic Evaluation, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Economic Ethics A Review with Regard to Climate Change – Figures in the Sustainability Discourse.

Further files in English for download: