Environmental Law Australia

Thinking about environmental law

Traditional categories

The traditional and still most common method of describing an environmental legal system is to group its various parts in categories such as “pollution law”, “cultural heritage” or “environmental impact assessment”.¹

The main problem with thinking about an environmental legal system in this way is that many modern environmental laws and modern environmental problems do not fit into neat categories.

Modern environmental laws have increasingly reflected the inter-relatedness of the environment by creating rights and duties that are general in nature and thereby apply to all activities and impacts.

The traditional categories or any simple categorisation is, therefore, apt to mislead our thinking about the law.

The jigsaw approach used here

Because of the difficulties of categorising modern environmental laws, the approach taken here does not use traditional categories like “pollution” to group laws together.

The approach taken here is to treat the environmental legal system as a jigsaw comprised of many different pieces that must be understood and brought together when solving problems.¹

Different pieces of the jigsaw will be relevant for different activities and different places.

The task of anyone working within the environmental legal system is to identify the relevant pieces and apply them to solve the problem at hand.

Structure is still needed, however, or the description will end in confusion.

This eBook is structured around the four main levels of the Australian environmental legal system:

Within these four levels the main laws are listed in alphabetical order.

You can think of it as building up a jigsaw puzzle.




¹ See Chris McGrath, Does Environmental Law Work? (Lambert Academic Publishing, Saarbrücken, 2010), Ch 3, pp 60-69.