Environmental law supports sustainable development

Life in a competitive society means that increasingly important environmental decisions are being made in companies on the basis of financial goals. It is becoming very difficult to draw the line between the private and public – consequently, we need new kinds of environmental regulation and standards.

“Businesses seek financial sustainability which is only possible if local communities approve of the activities that are needed to generate profits,” states Kai Kokko, professor of environmental law at the University of Helsinki.

“Financial sustainability requires social and environmental sustainability. This is sometimes referred to as the social licence to operate.”

Legislation is not enough for environmental protection. Companies have increasingly adopted their own regulations and standards which guide their operations towards sustainable development.

“Regulation means that a regulator seeks to control the behaviour of the target of the regulation. This means that environmental regulation includes the self-regulation undertaken by companies. Environmental legislation is an important, but not the only, element of environmental regulation,” explains Kokko.

In practical decision-making, it’s important to know the overall system of environmental regulation, including self-regulation and legislation. We must recognise the key concepts, the significance of basic environmental legislation, the principles of environmental protection as well as the central standards and means of regulation.

International cooperation is key for environmental protection

Climate change and loss of biodiversity are causes for concern all over the world. Environmental law can influence the future development of the world’s climate and nature.

“International cooperation and agreements, as well as EU and national regulations, are crucial. All of these levels of regulation are necessary; voluntary measures are not enough on their own. Traditional legislation is critical alongside self-regulation,” states Kokko.

Traditional legislation is critical alongside self-regulation

The European Union strives to maintain a high level of environmental protection and sustainable development. Development must be sustainable, not just in financial terms, but socially and ecologically as well.

“Sustainable development meets current demands without risking the ability of future generations to satisfy their needs,” says Kokko.

Regulation brings different perspectives together

It must be possible to use regulation in a variety of ways. For public administration, regulation is an instrument used to implement environmental policy, but it has other functions as well. For example, it can help reconcile the interests of various parties in the course of urban planning. Courts also provide owners, operators and neighbours with legal protection and resolve conflicts relating to the environment.

“In addition to protection, it’s important to ensure the necessary conditions to operate. The system of environmental law must be coherent and clear – we also need tools to reconcile different perspectives,” says Kokko.

The research and methods of environmental law have become more diverse.

“Studying and developing environmental law is no longer just about interpreting legislation, it also covers human behaviour and how it can be influenced through environmental regulation,” he adds.

More about the subject: Sustainability