1.1 What is environmental law?

Environmental law means the laws that regulate the impact of human activities on the environment.


Environmental law covers a broad range of activities that affect air, water, land, flora or fauna. It includes laws that relate to:

  • Protection of animals and plants

  • Planning for the use and development of land

  • Mining, exploration and extractive industries

  • Forestry

  • Pollution

  • Fisheries

  • Land and fire management

  • Agriculture and farming

  • Waste management

  • Climate change and emissions

  • Water resource management (lakes, wetlands, rivers and oceans)

  • Chemicals and pesticides

  • Weeds and invasive species

  • Marine life

  • Conservation of natural and cultural heritage

The general functions of most environmental laws are to:

  • set offences and penalties for causing harm to the environment which is not authorised

  • assess, control or stop certain activities (such as land use and development) before they are carried out

  • set policies and standards for how activities will be controlled and how environmental decisions and approvals will be made

  • enable members of the public to take part in environmental decision-making

  • create regulatory structures for environmental management, such as regulatory agencies (e.g. the Department of Lands, Planning and Environment)

  • create specialist courts and tribunals (e.g. the Lands, Planning and Mining Tribunal)

In the Northern Territory, some environmental laws are made by the Northern Territory Parliament. Others are made by the Commonwealth Parliament. Some environmental laws are also made by local councils or the courts.

© 2019 Environmental Defenders Office (NT) Inc.