“It’s about more than climate change”

29 Jun 2022

LMU law students launch the Law and Sustainability Club.

Members of the initiative Recht und Nachhaltigkeit

“When I started studying law,” Malena Anthofer recalls, “environmental protection and sustainability were not such big issues on the syllabus.” She had just moved from Lower Bavaria to Munich, her “new favorite city” and the perfect place to combine her interests in nature and culture. And even then, she was already keen to “somehow make the world a little bit better”. Now aged 26, she has her first state examination in the bag – and the issue of environmental protection in the study of law has changed significantly.

Professors and lecturers today explore the topic from all kinds of different angles, dissertations address topics such as the protection of ecosystems in the Ecuadorian constitution, and there is a seminar on "Climate policy, environmental protection and animal welfare in criminal law”. Last summer, some of her fellow students set up the Recht und Nachhaltigkeit (Law and Sustainability) Club, which goes by its German acronym RuN.

“Our lecturers Malin Nischwitz, Meike Krakau and Martin Heidebach organized a debate about the climate resolution passed by Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court,” the student says. “At the end, my fellow student Patricia Nonnenmacher – supported and encouraged by Clemens Hufeld – put forward the idea of launching a student initiative on the subject. This was followed by regular meetings, a student case review conference on the climate resolution and, ultimately, concrete planning to launch the initiative.” The aim was to play a part in shaping the legal community of the future. It didn’t take long to find other law students who were interested. So in August, RuN held its inaugural meeting – online, in deference to the ongoing pandemic.

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“There are many ways to define the term sustainability,” the club’s website notes . “For us, sustainability denotes the principle that we cannot consume more than can be made available again in the future.” This understanding embraces ecology, but also aspects of intergenerational dialogue and social equity. “For us, it’s about more than climate change,” Anthofer stresses.

To date, the initiative has 25 official members – although 50 budding legal professionals already chat in its “slack channel”. Most are still undergraduates; a few are postgraduates. Alongside Patricia Nonnenmacher and Malena Anthofer, three other students also sit on the executive committee. Friendships have flourished in the meantime, and “the board” even go out to the mountains or the lake together. Officially, Marie Hervol is co-chairperson, Paula Schindler secretary and Hannes Radinger treasurer. But in reality, everyone does everything. This morning, for example, Anthofer has just spoken to a law firm that the club wants to recruit as an additional sponsor. She also designs the website and plans events.

Panel discussions, lectures and workshops are at the core of the club’s activities. “And the professors seem really keen to support the initiative,” Anthofer says. “They are also open to our concerns and suggestions. And we have already organized a whole series of cooperative events with LMU chairs.” Professor Mathias Habersack, for example, has held a talk about corporate responsibility for the climate in company law. Professor Jens Kersten advocated better conservation of nature in the constitution, while Professor Julia Pongratz, a geographer, explained the physical interrelationships between human actions and the natural Earth system in the context of climate change.

Career goal? Climate law professional

Cooperation with outside organizations has already facilitated activities such as a three-part career event staged in conjunction with Bucerius Law School’s Climate Clinic e.V. and the Bundesfachschaft der Jurastudierenden (Federal Association of Law Students). Via Zoom meetings, the event explored issues such as everyday working life for climate law professionals. It showed how these professionals accompany construction planning procedures, advise local governments and fight in court on behalf of environmental associations. At regular meetings and social evenings, the members of RuN at times engage in heated debate. Topics range from the legal dispute over the evacuation of villages around the Garzweiler II open-cast lignite mine to the theory of sustainability in general, and even to legislative proposals put forward by the climate change mitigation initiative GermanZero. “We talk about ethical, legal, political and transformational aspects, about scarce resources and world trade,” Anthofer says, summing up.

She herself is particularly interested in the financial aspects of mitigating climate change: “How is it even possible to finance the transformation we now need?” While the question primarily concerns the laws governing financial regimes, sustainability has its place “in literally every area of law”. Company law, she argues, ensures that companies and banks ought to disclose how sustainable their investments are. Similarly, she notes that criminal climate law – a topic tackled with great intensity at LMU by criminal law expert Professor Helmut Satzger – makes sure that it will be easier to punish crimes against nature in the future. “If Germany really is climate-neutral in 2050,” Anthofer says, using an example to explain the kind of questions that have to be discussed from a legal perspective, “and if you can no longer release emissions into the atmosphere without compensating for them somewhere else, then violations must be punishable. But what behaviors exactly would be punishable? And who would the punishable party be?”

“Scientists, not activists”

The club has plans for a knowledge database to publish dissertations and seminar papers covering these and other topics in the future. It also wants to pass on internships and shared publications, in addition to encouraging what are known as “moot courts” on climate law – simulated court proceedings for training purposes, in other words. There should certainly be no lack of subject matter: “So many areas of law relate to nature conservation and sustainability,” Anthofer explains. “And we are also seeing how these areas relate to each other.”

The law student believes that sustainability must also be more deeply integrated in tax law, the subject in which she is majoring. She acknowledges that sustainability and climate change mitigation are already making inroads into income tax law. “But there is still too little awareness,” she admits. “My greatest desire would be for the academic potential to advance sustainability through law to receive even greater visibility.” The fact that she and other students are only too happy to commit to accelerating this process is reflected in the club’s motto: “Let’s run!”

Recht und Nachhaltigkeit (Law and Sustainability) Club

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