Environmental policy and environmental law

Legal, political and institutional governance has a key part to play in all environmental issues – from the sustainability of companies to new challenges such as digitalisation and the use of chemicals and nanomaterials, not forgetting the expansion of renewables and sustainable consumption patterns.

Environmental policy – national and international

It was not until the 1970s that Germany developed its own environmental policy; the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) was established in 1986, five weeks after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, to assume responsibility in this area. National, European and international environmental policy is now a highly diverse field. It covers a wide range of issues, including industrial pollution control, resource conservation, renewable energies, climate change mitigation and the conservation of biodiversity. The task often includes encouraging a “greener” approach in other areas of policy, such as economic, trade and agricultural policy. Environmental policy instruments range from regulatory measures and positive and negative incentives for sustainable business practices to communication tools, the creation of infrastructure and the monitoring of voluntary commitments by companies. The participation of the public in environmental decisions, for instance on infrastructure projects, is also vital.

Environmental law – a multi-faceted framework

Environmental policy decisions are often translated into environmental legislation and secondary regulations. Protection of the environment is regulated at national, European and international level. For example, Germany’s circular economy act and its renewable energy act operate at national level, the Ecodesign Directive and the European Landscape Convention are examples of European rules, while the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity are international instruments. But regardless of the level at which it operates or the aspects of the environment that are addressed, the legislation must never remain rigid. It evolves to take account of new requirements and technologies – such as new biotechnology processes.

Supporting policy-making and implementation

Experts at the Oeko-Institut work on environmental policy and environmental law at various levels. They support and advise private-sector organisations and companies as well as public actors at municipal, regional, national and EU level. For example, they support the transposition of EU directives into German law and advise policy-makers on effective instruments for managing sustainable environmental policies and transformation processes such as the energy and mobility transitions. As well as addressing substantive issues, the Oeko-Institut’s experts also explore and advise on issues relating to political processes and strategies, answering questions such as “How can subjects be placed on the political agenda and successfully communicated?”, “How can stakeholders be mobilised?” and “How can windows of opportunity be used and actively created?”


Developing policy instruments

The development of policy instruments is a specific form of policy advice and strategy consultancy. The Oeko-Institut’s researchers draw up proposals for ways to address specific environmental challenges – through regulatory law, planning law, incentive instruments, information schemes or procedural approaches. They focus not only on environmental outcomes but also on social sustainability, economic efficiency, policy coherence, enforceability and acceptance.

Policy analysis

The Oeko-Institut’s researchers use various types of policy analysis as a basis for drawing up effective policy proposals. For example, they examine specific environmental policies (policy analysis) and the interplay of different policies (coherence analysis). They also consider stakeholders (stakeholder analysis), institutional structures and processes (governance analysis) and discourse (discourse analysis) in policy areas relevant to sustainable development.

Policy advice and strategy consultancy

The Oeko-Institut’s researchers are often involved in the concrete development of programmes, laws, strategies and instruments – at national, sub-national or municipal level, in the EU or within a company. They contribute technical and legal expertise as well as knowledge of processes and stakeholders that contributes to more sustainable solutions.

Policy evaluation

Researchers at the Oeko-Institut evaluate policy instruments, strategies and programmes before they are implemented (ex-ante evaluation, impact assessment) or during and after the implementation process (ex-post). They draw on a variety of evaluation methods, including theory-based evaluation, empirical appraisals and modelling. Using qualitative and quantitative methods, they assess aspects of the measures adopted such as environmental effectiveness, social sustainability, economic efficiency, policy coherence, enforceability and acceptance.

What are the effects of climate change mitigation measures? Energy-economic models and analyses

Statutory analysis and legal policy

Analysis of the legal framework at national, European and international level (statutory analysis) clarifies whether and how (e.g. by which institutions, by means of what process) sustainability-oriented solutions can be legally implemented. This may involve new policy instruments or processes. If it emerges that the statutory situation needs to be changed, the Oeko-Institut’s researchers draw up proposals for the form and content of such changes to the law (legal policy).

Corporate strategy consulting: analysing and refining sustainability portfolios

Corporate sustainability responsibility has been an important aspect of the Oeko-Institut’s work for many years. To help put this knowledge into practice, our staff work directly with companies, advising them on how to make their activities more sustainable. One of the methods used is Corporate Impact Assessment & Management (CIAM). This takes companies through every stage of the journey towards greater sustainability. It can be used with small- and medium-sized enterprises as well as large companies.

Guidelines: Nachhaltiges Handeln in Unternehmen und Regionen [Sustainable action in companies and regions]

Implementing environmental and human rights due diligence

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and other international standards call on companies to assess their adverse impacts on people and the environment and take steps to prevent, minimise and compensate for them. The Oeko-Institut conducts research in this area and advises policy-makers, the private sector and multi-stakeholder initiatives on the interpretation and implementation of such standards. Its activities include risk and impact assessments, analysis of applicable national legislation and international standards, suggestions for appropriate measures and advice on setting up grievance mechanisms.

Environmental impact assessments

The construction and operation of industrial and commercial facilities, waste landfills and infrastructure installations has impacts on the environment, as does the mining of minerals. For certain projects an environmental impact assessment (EIA) is therefore mandatory. Similarly, many plans and programmes require a strategic environmental assessment (SEA). An Oeko-Institut team assists national and state authorities in this area, drawing on the institute’s technical and scientific knowledge and its extensive experience of involving stakeholders and the general public. A precautionary approach is key to this work.

Further information on environmental impact assessments

Scientific support for dialogue processes

Dialogue between different interest groups is often a key element of efforts to find a compromise between conflicting interests and identify possible solutions. In such settings the Oeko-Institut acts as an intermediary between different stakeholders from science, industry, civil society and politics. Oeko-Institut staff organise and coordinate the dialogue, provide professional support, process relevant scientific material and present it in readily comprehensible form, thus contributing to joint decision-making.