1.1 Why we need political-legal regulation

Objectives: Important is to

•   understand what defines environmental politics and law and what are their goals and  responsibilities,

•   describe the different areas and issues for which environmental law is responsible,

•   discuss generally the contribution of environmental law to the task of regulation of environmental questions by the state.

Peaceful co-existence in modern societies requires political negotiation between conflicting interests and therefore needs a reliable and consistent legal order. The law is at the same time both a result and a condition of legitimate political action. Applied law is always influenced by the dominant moral values of a society. Most of all, the law provides the foundation for the decision or arbitration of cases, in which parties with different claims run up against each other.

This applies to conflicting or hazardous claims for the use of natural resources as well as to the treatment of non-human beings. Therefore in the 20th century a separate environmental legislation was established. This legislation takes account of the growing extent of societal intrusion into nature. As the environment becomes a scarce good, which many societal protagonists compete to utilise, while the natural habitats of plants and animals (and therefore themselves) are in danger of extinction because of the expansion of civilisation, politics and law are increasingly asked to protect nature from exhaustive cultivation, blight and destruction.

The mandate for a more efficient policy on the natural world and ecology is owed not least to growing public ecological awareness and an increasing appreciation of animals and plants for their own sake. Natural and environmental protection becomes a public duty, which is to be considered equally as important as the promotion of the economy or the attainment of social justice. As a result, environmental law increasingly rates highly within the legal system. And with the establishment of environmental law, environmental ethics is valorised as well, as environment ethical values are incorporated in the formulation of environmental law. From now on, the enforcement of environmental ethical demands in modern society is bound to the embodiment and effectiveness of environmental law.

Meanwhile, there are countless regulations that are either directly of an environmental nature or at least co-determined by environmental legal considerations and provisions, for example,

•   The determination of critical values for emissions or fishing stocks

•   The allocation of water licences

•   The release of areas for development or agriculture

•   Permission for constructing dams, bridges or airports or for altering river courses (canalisation), installing waste disposal sites, establishing industries or energy generation

Almost all human activities that encroach in some way on the environment or the ecosystem have the potential to raise environmental legal questions and require environmental legal regulations.

In general, political–legal regulation or environmental law is an important tool for the protection of the environment in accordance with economics and social life. It is a complex and interlocking body of statutes, common law, treaties, conventions, regulations and policies that, very broadly, operate to regulate the interaction of humanity and the rest of the biophysical or natural environment. The purpose of all legal regulation on the protection of environment is the reduction or minimisation of the impacts of human activity, both on the natural environment for its own sake and on humanity itself.

The most important areas environmental law has to deal with are, among others: aid quality, water quality, global climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, species protection, pesticides and hazardous chemicals, waste management, remediation of contaminated land and sustainable development.

Environmental law is influenced by principles of environmentalism such as scientific ecology, responsibility for nature and the concept of sustainability. Insofar as environment protection is a public and state goal, it is based on several environmental political principles.

The legal norms and rules can be divided into general and special environmental regulations. General regulations for environmental protection are not assigned to a special field, but are applicable across all sectors. Special regulations for environmental protection are differentiated according to the object of protection or the kind of measure. For the object of protection the legal orientation can be:

•   Media-related for the protection of different environmental media (such as soil, water and air)

•   Causal for the protection of the environment against hazardous emissions or substances

•   Vital for the direct protection of animals and plants

In regard to the different kinds of measure, the environmental law can be related to:

•   Facilities (serving a function, e.g. for air pollution control, radiation protection or energy saving)

•   Substances (protection against hazardous chemicals, waste avoidance or waste disposal)

•   Areas (for water pollution control, rural conservation or soil conservation)

Because no environmental code exists in which all relevant subjects of environmental protection are covered in an integrated manner, different branches of law are affected by environmental legal regulations: public law, criminal law (or environmental criminal law), under which environmentally harmful behaviour becomes a punishable offence; and civil law, under which entitlement for compensation for ecological damage is regulated etc.

Environmental law holds numerous instruments through which the goals of environmental protection can be achieved and environmental political specifications can be efficiently implemented. The arrray of instruments includes especially:

•   Instruments for environmental planning (primarily for the protection of resources or for the prevention of ecological risks)

•   Instruments for the direct control of behaviour (prohibitions, orders and certain obligations for protagonists with relevance to the environment)

•   Instruments for the indirect control of behaviour (influence on the motivation of protagonists with relevance to the environment)

These instruments will be discussed later. First, however, we will turn to the principles that are (or should be) the basis for any ecological legislation; these are the organising principles to which international environmental law, the environmental law of the European Union and in general of all nations always refer.