Scientist portrait: Prof. Dr. Jelena Bäumler – implementing sustainability by law

2020-05-29 Sustainability by law? Jelena Bäumler, Professor of Public Law and International Law with a focus on sustainability, is researching the extent to which law can be used for a social transformation towards sustainable development.

After traditional law studies in Munich and Berlin, with stations at the UN Rwanda Tribunal in Tanzania as well as in Geneva, Liberia and the German Foreign Office in Berlin, Bäumler completed her doctorate at the interface of international environmental and commercial law in Potsdam. "I am interested in the potential offered by the law to cover aspects of sustainability, where this is already the case and where the law currently stands in the way of this," explains Bäumler. Her current research project is concerned with the extent to which the inclusion of trade, environmental and social aspects in international contracts that have recently been negotiated or are still being negotiated creates a promising type of contract. These treaties, it is hoped, offer considerable potential to overcome the traditional sectoral approach of international law. "If, for example, we could observe an integration of environmental law into classic trade agreements, we would have taken a first, but major step towards sustainable development," explains Bäumler. 

Indeed, international law and the concept of sustainability already have quite a few points of contact: With the Brundtland Report and several international agreements, international law has advanced the acceptance of the concept of sustainable development. "It has not included sustainability in all international agreements that come into consideration for this purpose, yet, but it has contributed significantly to its dissemination, for example through the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations," says the scientist. 

"In the national legal system, the implementation of the principle of sustainability has so far only been tentatively achieved," she comments on the current status. "It would be necessary to amend the Basic Law in order to strengthen sustainability. The constitution, as the highest ranking national law, radiates to all areas. There is already a reference to sustainability in Article 20a of the Basic Law on environmental protection, but this does not cover the entire concept of sustainability.

All in all, Bäumler sees good chances for the strengthening of sustainability through law: "A core business of law is to weigh up interests. The weighting given to environmental protection and sustainability is crucial. Words are the instrument of lawyers. We must try to translate what now exists in the abstract about sustainability into the language of the law and anchor it in legal texts in order to create a sustainable legal system, both nationally and internationally". 

Prof. Dr. Jelena Bäumler, Professor of Public Law and International Law with focus on sustainability. ©Anna Stojan/Leuphana
Prof. Dr. Jelena Bäumler, Professor of Public Law and International Law with focus on sustainability.