Environmental law is a complex and interlocking body of statutes, common law, treaties, conventions, regulations and policies which, very broadly, operate to regulate the interaction of humanity and the rest of the biophysical or natural environment, toward the purpose of reducing or minimizing the impacts of human activity, both on the natural environment for its own sake, and on humanity itself. Environmental law draws from and is influenced by principles of environmentalism, including ecology, conservation, stewardship, responsibility and sustainability. From an economic perspective it can be understood as concerned with the prevention of present and future externalities.
Areas of concern in environmental law include air quality, water quality, global climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, species protection, pesticides and hazardous chemicals, waste management, remediation of contaminated land and brownfields, smart growth, sustainable development, impact review, and conservation, stewardship and management of public lands and natural resources.
While many countries worldwide have since accumulated impressive sets of environmental laws, their implementation has often been woeful. In recent years, environmental law has become seen as a critical means of promoting sustainable development (or "sustainability"). Policy concepts such as the precautionary principle, public participation, environmental justice, and the polluter pays principle have informed many environmental law reforms in this respect (see further Richardson and Wood, 2006). There has been considerable experimentation in the search for more effective methods of environmental control beyond traditional "command-and-control" style regulation. Eco-taxes, emission trading, voluntary standards such as ISO 14000 and negotiated agreements are some of these innovations.
Environmental law is offered as an elective course in the second and third year of JD study at many American law schools. Some U.S. law schools also offer an LLM or JSD specialization in environmental law.
The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law is a network of some 60 law schools worldwide that specialise in the research and teaching of environmental law.
Outside the U.S.?