As global awareness of climate issues and the importance of caring for our environment reaches an all time high, consideration should also be given to the legal protections and processes that accompany this drive to do better. Is a career in environmental law the best way to pursue your passion for the planet?
Now more than ever, people across the globe are banding together on a mission to achieve environmental protection, and, where possible, to reverse the damaging impacts humanity has had on the planet. However, it can feel like there is little you as an individual can do to help achieve meaningful change.
For those pursuing a legal career, working within environmental law could be the ideal way to both fulfil your career aspirations whilst doing good in the world.
What is environmental law?
A relatively new area, environmental charity ClientEarth identifies environmental law as having developed and evolved since the late 70s and early 80s. Having begun as a form of law that sought to tackle general nuisance and issues impacting on human health, environmental law has grown alongside humanity’s awareness and scientific discovery to encompass a wide range of other areas, including:
- Pollution, air quality, and water quality
- The use and sustainability of natural resources
- Hunting and fishing regulations
- Contaminant clean-up
Now often the subject of international agreement, the main principles focus on sustainability, transparency, responsibility, and also prevention.
As is often the case when issues of morality become entwined in law, environmental law can be a contentious area – with different parties jostling for what they deem their ‘fair share’, and conflicting opinions of where to set appropriate boundaries and restrictions. However, the vast majority would agree that environmental regulation is crucial when it comes to the safeguarding of our environment for future generations.
What are some examples of environmental law?
One of the early examples within the UK is the Clean Air Act 1956. At the time, London suffered from terrible levels of air pollution, culminating in the ‘Great Smog of 1952’ – the smoke-like pollution of which led to the death of approximately 4,000 people.
The resulting Clean Air Act is widely considered a major milestone in environmental protection, having granted powers to set limits on emissions for households and business (particularly burning coal) while an inspectorate would enforce compliance. It also required zones for smokeless fuel to be burned and relocated power stations. However, change was not achieved overnight – a further revision of the Clean Air Act was required in 1968 following another smog crisis in 1962.
A more recent example of environmental law is the Climate Change Levy, which utilises a more commercially driven means of enforcing change. The Levy taxes the use, by industry, commerce, agriculture, and the public sector, of energy including electricity, coal, coke, and gas. Aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, energy suppliers collect the levy through their customers’ electricity bills, with different rates of levy applying depending on the energy source.
What careers are possible within environmental law?
For those seeking to pursue a career as an eco-conscious lawyer, there are many different routes you can pursue depending on your level of qualification and experience to date – from working to enact policy change directly within Government, to lobbying and campaigning through charity work.
One of the more traditional lawyer forms of working within environmental law is working for clients such as large companies and corporations to advise them of the impacts of their current and proposed activity, as well as the associated responsibilities and mitigating actions they may need to take as a result.
The United Kingdom Environmental Law Association (UKELA) provides a promising place to start researching your options, with a dedicated careers guide and other careers associated events to help provide those interested in pursuing a career in environmental law with useful information and the opportunity to network.