Environmental protection laws are a relatively new form of legislature or policies that aim to protect the natural resources of the Earth. Most environmental protection laws deal with the improving the maintenance and sustainable use of air, water, and land. These laws take many different forms and may be created through a variety of legal processes.
International environmental protection laws often take the form of multinational treaties or agreements between a group of countries. One example of an international law is the Kyoto Protocol, which has been ratified in nearly 200 countries. The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane. Like many multinational treaties, the Kyoto Protocol was fostered through the United Nations as part of an attempt to create cohesive environmental protection laws that could have a global effect.
Some international environmental laws are the result of international courts of law. Organizations such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) are granted power to rule over member nations in issues of certain disputes that cross borders. Though these rulings are difficult to enforce, the will of the ICJ and similar court organizations can help set up precedent for the management of such cases.
Regional or national environmental protection laws can focus both on preserving the natural resources of the governed area and of the world in general. These laws are frequently formulated and enforced through a national organization, such as the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States. National laws are typically easier to enforce than international treaties or rulings, as the regional government often has the right to punish violators. Violations of environmental protection laws can result in heavy fines and sanctions, as well as open violators up to civil lawsuits from the public.
There are several different areas that environmental laws can manage. Proper maintenance of air is a major segment of environmental law that often involves regulations about emissions, air pollution, and manufacturing practices. Water laws may govern both fresh and salt water, and often deal with runoff from industry, restoration requirements, and usage rights. Wildlife and wilderness laws are typically intended to prevent ecosystem disruption by preventing encroachment on the natural ranges of animals, limiting logging and similar projects in fragile areas, and protecting endangered species from poaching or habitat loss.
Environmental protection laws meet a great deal of criticism from nearly every direction. While environmental activists suggest the laws do not go far enough and simply slow down destructive practices rather than stop them, business representatives often claim that environmental laws limit profit margins and increase expenses, making businesses harder to run and more difficult to maintain. Nevertheless, these constantly evolving laws continue to grow in scope and reach, as most scientific experts agree the planet is headed toward a serious resource crisis in the future.