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Law: Environmental Law

Welcome to the Environmental Law Research Guide. The purpose of the guide is to equip students with the necessary insight, knowledge and skills to work with this fascinating, interesting and highly relevant field of law.

The purpose of this guide is to provide a comprehensive resource for navigating the environmental legal landscape. Environmental law is not only about compliance but also about safeguarding a country's natural heritage and ensuring a sustainable future. Whether you are a student or a researcher, this guide will empower you to explore and understand the multifaceted aspects of environmental law. It offers valuable insights, research tools, and resources to foster a deeper appreciation of the critical role that environmental law plays in preserving a nation's environment, biodiversity, and overall well-being.

National and International Environmental Law

Environmental Law in South Africa

Environmental law in South Africa refers to the legal framework and regulations established within the country to manage environmental resources, protect the environment, and address environmental challenges.

Key features of environmental law in South Africa include:

  • National Environmental Management Act (NEMA): NEMA is the foundational legislation for environmental management in South Africa. It sets out the framework for environmental governance, environmental impact assessments, conservation, and sustainable development.
  • Sectoral Legislation: South Africa has various sector-specific environmental laws addressing issues like air quality, water resources, biodiversity conservation, waste management, and mining activities.
  • Biodiversity Conservation: The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) regulates the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, designating protected areas and addressing issues related to endangered species and invasive species.
  • Air and Water Quality: South Africa has laws such as the National Environmental Management: Air Quality Act and the National Water Act to regulate and protect air and water quality.
  • Waste Management: The National Environmental Management: Waste Act (NEMWA) governs waste management, recycling, and the responsible disposal of waste.
  • Climate Change and Energy: South Africa addresses climate change through policy frameworks and the Carbon Tax Act, among other measures.
  • Mining and Land Use Planning: The Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) regulates mining activities, while land use planning and zoning are managed through various provincial and municipal laws.
  • Environmental Enforcement and Compliance: NEMA includes provisions for enforcing environmental regulations and imposing penalties for non-compliance.
  • Public Participation: Public participation is a fundamental element of environmental decision-making in South Africa, allowing stakeholders to contribute to environmental management processes.
  • International Agreements: South Africa is a party to various international environmental agreements, including the Paris Agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and others.

International Environmental Law

International environmental law refers to the body of legal principles, agreements, and regulations that govern the interactions between nations with regard to environmental issues. It is a branch of international law that addresses global environmental challenges and promotes cooperation among countries to protect the environment and manage shared natural resources.

Key aspects of international environmental law include:

  • Global Agreements: International treaties and conventions, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances, establish legally binding commitments and frameworks for addressing specific environmental issues.
  • Customary International Law: Some environmental principles and norms have become customary international law through consistent state practice and widespread acceptance, even without formal treaties. For example, the principle of preventing transboundary harm is considered a customary norm.
  • Soft Law: Soft law instruments, such as non-binding declarations and guidelines, often contribute to the development of international environmental norms and standards. These can serve as important guidance for states and organisations.
  • International Organisations: Entities like the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and regional organisations play a significant role in facilitating international environmental cooperation, conducting research, and assisting countries in implementing environmental agreements.
  • Dispute Resolution: International environmental law provides mechanisms for dispute resolution, including international courts and tribunals, to address conflicts arising from environmental issues between states.
  • Common Concern of Humanity: Some environmental issues, such as climate change and the protection of the ozone layer, are considered "common concerns of humanity," leading to a heightened level of international cooperation and governance.



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