Law for the Living Environment

Law is a powerful tool for social change. The LAW group studies the influence of law on the rules and institutions needed to face the environmental, social and economic challenges of today and to facilitate transitions to a sustainable living environment.

The LAW group’s work is central to addressing the global challenges around which Wageningen University & Research (WUR) has shaped its academic and social goals: climate change, overpopulation in urban centres, malnutrition, and the overconsumption of nature and natural resources.

Through its unique institutional position, the LAW group can act as a bridge between traditional legal scholarship and researchers working towards practical life science solutions to global challenges. Any successful scientific solution to these challenges needs to be accommodated within our legal systems, and be in line with the normative principles that these systems represent.

Our research is organized through three research lines: Living Environment; Food System Solidarity; Business, Human rights and the Environment. These lines often interlink and intertwine on subject matter. In addition, there are two 'connector' themes - Translationalism and Legal research methods - that connect our researchers.

Research line: Living Environment

Regulating our social and natural environment across public and private spheres of influence is one of the most important challenges of our time. Balancing the needs of current and future generations in different areas of the world requires an in-depth understanding of related legal frameworks.

Key research includes:
- Climate change
- Energy law
- Pollution and plastics
- Biodiversity & ecosystems
- Comparative environmental law

Research line lead: Prof. dr. Josephine van Zeben
Associated researchers: Dr. Bart Kamphorst, Taufik Haryanto, Violet Ross, Maggie Jiang

Research line: Food System Law

This research line develops anticipatory legal solutions to design a future integrated EU food system that is based on solidarity. The future of food will resolve around the food-health nexus, technological innovations, digitalisation, societal and ethical considerations, and in light of global pandemics, a return to considerations of food security and sovereignty in times of crises and food hygiene. Therefore, food research contributes to practically all major societal challenges, such as circularity, the protein transition, biodiversity or malnutrition.

Key research includes:
- Food system solidarity
- Anticipatory legal interventions in casting food futures
- Food information law
- Food safety and quality law
- Food risk regulation architecture
- Short food supply chains (
- Surfing for food: bridging the enforcement gap in digital marketplaces
- Public procurement and sustainable food systems
- Food, the digital single market and the platform economy

Research line lead: Dr. Hanna Schebesta
Associated researchers: Eva Johan, Kathleen Garnett, Marie Jose (Pepa) Plana Casado

    Research line: Business, Human Rights and the Environment

    In our globalized world, private companies have significant power and influence. They can both contribute to and prevent the realization of human rights, the sustainable development goals, and a circular and climate-neutral economy. National, EU and international legal frameworks seek to maintain economic growth while regulating corporate activities in the face of global political contestation and technological innovations.

    Key research includes:
    - Corporate legal accountability for human rights and environmental impacts
    - Policy coherence on business and human rights at the EU level
    - Interplay between trade and investment law, and social and environmental issues

    Research line lead: Dr. Nadia Bernaz
    Associated researchers: Dr. Chiara Macchi

    Connector: Transnational Regulation

    In the last few decades, the world has globalized and localised at the same time, which has transformed the sovereignty and authority of the nation state. Transnational issues are governed through global networks of state and non-state actors in partly legal and partly non-legally binding arrangements. These various levels of regulation are connected through the regulation of informational and material flows, from data to goods, services and people related to the greening of international trade. The LAW group looks at how public and private legal mechanisms can generate positive outcomes in terms of sustainability at the domestic, EU and international levels. Under this "connector" theme, we conduct research on the legal regulation of environmentally and socially sustainable supply chains (particularly with regard to food and agriculture), public procurement, trade and investment.

      Connector: Legal research methods

      In line with the interdisciplinary culture of Wageningen University and Research, a scientific ambition of the LAW group is to contribute to a methodological shift in the legal discipline towards the incorporation of social and natural science research methods. Here, our focus is on the use of science to inform the law, empirical legal research, and systematic content analysis in law.