Taking a Look at Environmental Law/Legislation

Environmental Law

Environmental Law is a term used to describe all the aspects of law and legislation that protect and manage the environment. In relation to an Environmental Management System or ISO14001, this means that all laws involving the surroundings in which an organization operates can fall under the umbrella term- Environmental Law.

History of Environmental Law

Environmental laws can be found throughout history. Most typically environmental laws revolved around nuisance, meaning that the environmental laws were put in place to prohibit noise and odours.

Environmental Law, as it stands today became a distinct body of law during the twentieth century. Some of the earliest laws, with the intention of protecting or preserving the environment, being passed in the 1950s and 1960s.

These environmental laws were developed and passed due to the increasing awareness and concern over issues arising across the globe from conservation to maintaining air and water qualities.

Principles of Environmental Law

Environmental Law has evolved over the last few decades, which has allowed society as a whole to identify key principles when it comes to amending, updating and creating new laws. These following principles represent the general understanding of environmental law across the globe.

  • Precautionary principle — Because science is an ever-evolving field, the precautionary principle requires that if there is a suspicion that an activity may have adverse environmental impacts, it is better to control the activity now than wait for the scientific evidence that there is an impact.
  • Sustainable development — Development is necessary across the globe, environmental laws need to allow for development in a way that aligns social and economic growth with that of environmental protection.
  • Equity — meaning that while the current generation has access to natural resources, they need to take care of it for future generations and consider long term impacts, as to not encroach on resources for future generations.
  • Prevention — this aim of environmental law, to prevent any sort of degradation or environmental harm is typically more economically viable than reacting to degradation or impacts that have already occurred.
  • Polluter pay principle — this basically means that the environmental cost, as well as the cost of prevention, is internalised by the entity gaining the main economic benefit. These costs should not be passed on to society as a whole.
  • Public participation and transparency — this is the guiding principle of an environmental impact assessment, that the public is allowed to be informed and hold opinions on activities which use natural resources.
  • Integration — simply put that environmental protection is integrated into all areas of governance to promote sustainable development.

Environmental Law at Different Levels of Governance

Environmental Law can be divided into Internation Law, National Law, as well as Local Law.

International Environmental Legislation consists of customary international law (laws typically followed by all countries across the world) as well as international agreements to which countries subscribe. International agreements can include two or more countries, the most prominent environment agreements include the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

National Environmental Legislation is laws which are put in place by a country that needs to be followed across the country. Different states, provinces or territories can also enact more local legislation that is only applicable to that specific state, province or territory. Similarly, additional laws can be enacted all the way down to local municipalities. Usually, as the law trickles down to more specific regions, the legislation becomes more specific with more stringent requirements.

Environmental Law and ISO14001

Environmental Law and it’s management fall under Clause 6 of ISO14001. Specifically in Clause 6.1.3.

Compliance obligations within the realm of an ISO14001 Environmental Management System arise from:

  • International Law
  • National Law
  • Local Law
  • By-Laws
  • Requirements from government or other relevant authorities
  • Orders, rules, or even guidance from regulatory agencies
  • Permits, Licences, Court Orders
  • Industry Standards
  • Company Requirements
  • Agreements with interested parties (such as community groups, NGO’s, public authorities, customers or clients)
  • Voluntary principles or codes of practice
  • Contractual obligations

A single organization can have hundreds of compliance obligations arising from Environmental Laws. It’s prudent for any organization to keep on top of changes, amendments, and updates to Environmental Legislation as a whole. In many instances being legally compliant goes hand-in-hand with the overall licence to operate.

Keeping Up-To-Date with Environmental Law

  • Environmental Law and it’s management fall under Clause 6 of ISO14001. Specifically in Clause 6.1.3.

    Compliance obligations within the realm of an ISO14001 Environmental Management System arise from:

    • International Law
    • National Law
    • Local Law
    • By-Laws
    • Requirements from government or other relevant authorities
    • Orders, rules, or even guidance from regulatory agencies
    • Permits, Licences, Court Orders
    • Industry Standards
    • Company Requirements
    • Agreements with interested parties (such as community groups, NGO’s, public authorities, customers or clients)
    • Voluntary principles or codes of practice
    • Contractual obligations

    A single organization can have hundreds of compliance obligations arising from Environmental Laws. It’s prudent for any organization to keep on top of changes, amendments, and updates to Environmental Legislation as a whole. In many instances being legally compliant goes hand-in-hand with the overall licence to operate.

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