‘I was always drawn to environmental law’: Interview with Professor Michael Rodi

Professor Michael Rodi is the director of IKEM, a professor emeritus at the University of Greifswald, and a pioneer in the field of environmental law: he has studied the links between law, sustainability and climate policy since the early years of the discipline. This has been a busy autumn for Professor Rodi, who in the past few weeks has received the Greifswald Research Award, prepared a new book for publication, and taken on new responsibilities at IKEM as he steps back from his long-time role at the university. We spoke with the IKEM director about the history of the institute, the inspiration for his latest book, and the area where he has made the greatest contribution to climate change mitigation.

From 1999 to 2021, you served as the Chair of Public Law, Financial Law, Environmental and Energy Law at the University of Greifswald. But that’s not all – you also founded an entirely new institute in 2009! What prompted you to take that on?
As a student, I studied tax and financial law under Klaus Vogel, but I was always drawn to environmental law. My dream was to research interdisciplinary issues related to the legal and policy framework for energy system transformation. I also wanted to employ as many young and ambitious researchers as possible and to influence climate policy. That’s why I founded IKEM, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year.

How did you go about creating the institute?
Before the University Senate would approve the establishment of a new research centre, I had to demonstrate that the university didn’t have the human resources necessary to accomplish the mission I’d proposed for the institute. Once I had done that, the Senate allowed me to create IKEM as an affiliated research centre. I’m very grateful to the university administration and my colleagues for supporting this project. The founding of IKEM was something truly special – something not every university would have dared to do.

Since then, you’ve been IKEM’s executive director and director of research. What do these roles involve?
I oversee the activities of the institute, working in tandem with a strong management team – Susan Wilms and Simon Schäfer-Stradowsky – and strong team leads. The institute is in great hands with them. I see my main role as guiding IKEM’s research. I’m directly involved in this through my work with the Research Academy. I think it’s an important task, because we want to strengthen IKEM’s academic reputation as a research centre and a university-affiliated institute.

Now that you’ve retired from many of your traditional duties at the university, you’re taking on an even greater role at IKEM. What are your plans for the future?
We’ve set ambitious goals for the next 10 years. We want to create a journal for climate law that is like the internationally oriented Climate and Carbon Law Review (CCLR), but for the German-speaking world. We’d also like to develop a degree programme in climate and energy transition law, as well as a research programme for graduate students. So there are still a lot of exciting things going on at IKEM, even after 10 years!

In addition to your work at IKEM and the university, you’re the author of several books. The handbook you edited on climate change law, Handbuch Klimaschutzrecht, will be published soon. What role would you like the book to play in mitigating climate change?
Climate change law is a new and important field of law. Research in the field is only just getting started, and the academic world is waiting for the first real reference book on the subject. I want to set standards for the field, especially with respect to the tremendous significance of legal policy in this area. Hopefully, this will allow us to have a lasting influence on the legal policy debate around climate change mitigation. So it’s very appropriate that this book is being published as coalition negotiations are getting underway.

For climate change law to be effective, what are the main obstacles that need to be overcome?
First of all, there needs to be political will, which has been lacking for a long time. But now there are glimmers of hope: the EU established ambitious goals and measures in the Green Deal and the ‘Fit for 55’ legislative programme. In Germany, political will has changed as well: in coalition negotiations, ambitious climate change mitigation seems to be one issue where parties are finding common ground. Another obstacle is that there hasn’t been much fine-tuning of legal policy. The book can play an important role in addressing this issue.

You’ve been combatting climate change for your entire career. Where do you think you’ve had the greatest impact?
I had a major and immediate impact in my time as a government adviser – for example, on a comprehensive, ecological tax reform in Vietnam. But in the long term, I think IKEM’s impact on climate change will be greater – and, most importantly, more sustainable.

Looking back on your 20 years at the University of Greifswald: what is your favourite memory?
My fondest memories are definitely of my international activities, such as the Summer Academies that were held abroad – especially the legendary Summer Academy on the shores of Lake Baikal in 2005, which covered the topic ‘implementing Kyoto’. Overnight, my students changed the sign on my office to ‘Faculty of Public Law and Applied Tourism’. I still laugh about that sometimes.


Interview by Nina Schmelzer, IKEM Communications Team intern.


IKEM – Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility e.V.