Research Unit Sustainability and Climate Policy
Prof. Dr. Dr. Felix Ekardt, LL.M., M.A.
Missing German and EU climate targets is not embarrassing - it is contrary to international and human rights. Even the unambitious targets themselves are illegal; all the more so their misconduct. More on this in our new legal opinion on the Paris Agreement here. In April 2021, we won a groundbreaking lawsuit at the German Constitutional Court. See on this here and here.
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.
Paris targets imply that not only emissions from degraded peatlands have to be avoided, but conservation and rewetting of peatlands are also necessary to figure as sinks to compensate for unavoidable residual emissions. In the absence of an easily comprehensible control variable (such as fossil fuels), economic instruments reach their limits. This is remarkable in so far as economic instruments can otherwise handle governance problems and react to various behavioral motivational factors very well. Still, peatlands can be subject to certain regulations and prohibitions under command-and-control law even without precise knowledge of the emissions from peatland use: here.
From spring 2019 Felix Ekardt is the editor of Springer Nature's new book series "Environmental Humanities: Transformation, Governance, Ethics, Law". It is open to the entire social sciences, i.e. economics, philosophy, sociology, political science, ethnology, etc. Volume 1 "Sustainability: Transformation, Governance, Ethics, Law" by Felix Ekardt has been published now and provides an overview of the work of the FNK with completely new perspectives in sustainability research - and can be read with Springer Link: 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.
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.