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The preservation and protection of the environment is one of the defining issues of our time. It spans and traverses both the international and domestic spheres and raises important issues of justice and fairness. It inevitably raises pressing legal questions. There are multiple legal systems that regulate and influence how we relate to the environment, including international environment law, human rights law and even international investment law.
This subject offers an introduction to how law shapes and defines our relations to the environment, including issues of sustainability, environmental justice and global inequality. It brings together a number of areas of law, and invites students to consider legal principles, institutions and legal questions at the heart of environmental rights and responsibilities. The subject will begin by addressing environment rights and responsibilities pursuant to international
law, with case studies from Australia and overseas. It will then consider environmental law in Australia. It aims to invite students to explore the possibilities and limits of different areas of law in realising social and environmental objectives, and to consider how law may protect environmental rights and environmental justice in novel ways.
Principal topics include:
- The relationship between rights, responsibilities and the environment in theory and practice, including principles and frameworks of environmental law
- The environment in international law, for example, in the context of world heritage protection, transnational environmental assessment and pollution, global commons, whaling, a crime of ecocide or climate change
- The emergence and principles of international environmental law
- The right to, and responsibilities of, sustainable development
- Environmental human rights and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment
- Environmental justice, intersectionality and global and domestic inequalities
- The roles and responsibilities of non-state actors in relation to environmental rights, including environmental advocates, businesses and transnational corporations
- Indigenous peoples, environmental and land rights and Indigenous laws
- The ‘rights of nature’ and non-human environmental rights
- Climate change litigation and the rights of protesters
Intended learning outcomes
The aims of this subject are to:
- Introduce students to significant and foundation concepts in legal systems that regulate human relationships with land and the environment, and that seek to protect the environment or enable economic development;
- Examine the legal responsibilities of nations, governments and humans to protect the environment from harm and conserve aspects of the environment;
- Explore ideas about the legal rights of “nature” and the legal rights of humans to environmental protection, and critically evaluate the legal tools to achieve the protection of such rights;
- Understand the responsibility of organisations, professionals, corporations and agencies to prevent environmental harm and restore environmental damage; and
- Critique environmental legal systems through case studies and explore opportunities to reform and reimagine the law so that it might better achieve its objectives.
- Acquired knowledge of legal principles and regulatory systems relating to the environment and human use and modification of the environment;
- Been introduced to the notions of rights and responsibilities within a legal system, and acquired knowledge about how these notions link legal systems – especially international and domestic legal systems;
- Used creative thinking and critical analysis skills to independently reflect, synthesise and extend acquired knowledge so to demonstrate understanding of the legal rights and responsibilities of various human and non-human components of the environment;
- Planned a presentation directed at critiquing and addressing a perceived limitation in environmental law, and used research and analytical and persuasive communication skills to justify an independently formed viewpoint about environmental law;
- Demonstrated oral and written communication skills in presenting knowledge and ideas about how law could improve its social and environmental objectives; and
- Demonstrated ability to conduct and present research on a topic of environmental rights and responsibilities, informed by independent analysis and critical thinking.
Last updated: 2 December 2023