Department of Environmental and Planning Law. Photo: André Künzelmann/UFZ

Department of Environmental and Planning Law


In every society, law is an essential means of regulating and organising the way people live alongside each other. For several decades, the responsibility that humankind bears for the environment has been developed and codified into a system of legal rules and principles. How can environmental law – and more specifically the law of sustainability – contribute to maintaining natural resources as an essential precondition for life and economic activity for society today and for future generations. How can a balance be ensured between preserving individual freedoms and protecting the greater social, economic and ecological needs of society?

In order to meet these challenges, environmental and sustainability law needs to be designed to be effective and simultaneously reflective and adaptive. This means that legal rules should meet the standards of the so-called “SMART test” (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed), guarantee an integration of social perceptions into the law and should be adaptive in the sense that its rules can be adjusted in response to improved knowledge.

When it comes to decision-making procedures for the preparation and realization of projects with a significant potential for adverse environmental effects, the law has to insure that the environmental impacts of the activities are being appropriately assessed, that civil society is informed and involved and that control mechanisms are in place to ensure decisions are legally sound.

As part of the Division of Social Sciences , the Department of Environmental and Planning Law contributes jurisprudential expertise to the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ). Our research focuses on current problems in the fields of water, energy, mining and other activities underground, as well as agriculture, nature conservation, biodiversity, soil and chemicals/hazardous substances. We use our competencies particularly in the context of integrated projects by working closely together with researchers in the social, engineering and natural sciences. Our research is specifically designed to be accessible and useful across a broad range of sectors including policy, administrative and judicial decision-making.

We use a range of different legal methodologies including the traditional hermeneutic principles of the interpretation of (legal) texts and their reception by the legal system - in particular through the courts. We also use methods of comparative law, socio-scientific methods of cognition as well as applying theoretical and philosophical concepts to enhance legal understanding.

Research on environmental law at the UFZ falls within a wider programme of social sciences and humanities.