What kind of regulation is expected in connection with the green transition in the EU or the Convention on Biological Diversity of the UN? What about the production of green hydrogen or the capture and use of carbon dioxide?
According to Kai Kokko, Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Helsinki, the ongoing sustainability transition has increased the need for research in environmental law and experts well versed in environmental regulation. The focus of research is increasingly on the anticipation of regulation: what should society and those acting within it be prepared for in the future?
— For example, businesses should be provided with information on what new environmental regulation will involve in the EU’s green transition and elsewhere, so that they can steer their business operations in the right direction and also create new business opportunities.
Regulatory structures are often complex. According to Kokko, understanding them and making them function increasingly effectively is essential for Finland’s competitiveness.
— If research on regulation is insufficient, we can run into a slew of difficulties that will slow down the green transition in Finland. In that case, countries that are more agile in terms of regulation and better at investigating it will gain a competitive edge.
Significance of environmental law will increase in the future
The professorship in environmental law at the University of Helsinki was established with donated funds in 2014. In his nine years in the professorship, Kokko has witnessed the expansion and increasing importance of the field.
— In terms of the economy as well, it has been realised that growth cannot continue without taking into account the carrying capacity of the planet, Kokko says.
— A linear economy where the emissions of manufactured products can be left to others to take care of is no longer working. We have to transition to a circular economy. And that means both new responsibilities and opportunities. The circular economy makes for excellent business operations, which is, of course, the goal of the green transition in the EU. But it has to be controlled by regulation to avoid freeriding or greenwashing.
Lawyers specialised in environmental law hold a wide range of positions in society, including at government ministries and interest groups. Increasingly, experts in the field are also needed by the industry and the private sector alongside lawyers specialised in business law and commercial law.
Kokko believes that perspectives related to corporate social and environmental responsibility will in the future become increasingly central also in research on environmental law.
— States alone are unable to curb climate change or tackle the biodiversity loss crisis. It is precisely businesses that are needed in this. Their self-regulation also plays a key role. Businesses are key to building a sustainable future for coming generations, Kokko says.
— A lot of work remains to be done to put an end to harmful growth and make it sustainable.
The Faculty of Law of the University of Helsinki intends to continue its investment in research and teaching focused on sustainability issues. At the moment, funds are being raised for a new fixed-term professorship in sustainability law. The purpose of the position is to produce research-based knowledge on, among other things, sustainable finance, sustainability reporting and corporate social and environmental responsibility. While the aim is to establish the professorship with the donations raised, new research projects are expected to make it a permanent part of the operations of the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science HELSUS.
— The new professorship focuses on the intersection between environmental and economic sustainability. There is a great demand for such research and expertise in Finnish society.