When defining the environment, Dimento (2003) states that it comprises of both natural and anthropogenic elements that are not only mutually interrelated, but has an impact on the ecological balance, life, human health, historical and cultural heritage and the landscape. From this definition, the environment comprises of three main things, the natural resources, the fauna and flora, and the properties which form part of the cultural heritage (Shelton & Kiss 2005). The misuse of environmental resources and pollution worldwide has prompted commitment from governments and major stakeholders to put in place measures to protect the environment, and, consequently, environmental laws are being enacted in an effort to protect the environment (Dimento 2003). The environmental resources cannot be rejuvenated once depleted; neither can it protect itself from misuse and pollution. Therefore, only the law can be used to protect the environment. Putting in place laws in charge of the environment will speak loudly about how the environment can be used sustainably as well as give prior warnings to those who may intend to misuse or pollute the environment. Laws usually give directions and consequences of going against such directions. Environment has its own rights and any violator of such rights will only be answerable to the law.
According to UNEP, environmental law looks at the features of the protection programs which have been put in place to safeguard specific aspects of the environment and natural resources, such as water, air, waste and endangered species. It is also the reference point for judges presiding over environment related cases (Thirlway 2003). Before 1960, the environmental law did not exist as independently as other domestic or international legal issues (Shelton, Kiss & Kanami 2003). However, international laws in place currently to help tackle the scientific issues which affect the environment, such as uncertainty issues, sustainable development, issues of diversity and settings issues of individuals and the society, and economics aspects of the environment (Fitzmaurice 2003). These laws seek to control the use of resources in a sustainable manner and to eradicate contamination of the environment through pollution and similar human practices. These laws, therefore, protects against loss of biodiversity, loss of fertility, desertification and famine, depletion of fishing resources, increase of cancers due to depletion of the ozone layer and damage of future generations (Zaelke, Kaniaru & Kruzikova 2005). According to the United Nations (2003), sources of environmental laws can be classified into two categories: the National laws and the International laws. The basis of the legal mechanisms of the environmental law include prohibition and restriction of activities such as pollution, product and process standards, prior informed consent, environmental impact assessment, and land use regulation (Zaelke, Kaniaru & Kruzikova 2005). Generally, these laws are formulated in such a way that they are preventive, that is, they prevent damage of the environment such that the use of some resources from the environment must be approved through rigorous exercises of environmental impact assessment and other similar regulations. This, in a broader perspective, helps in protecting the environment. Sanctions and penalties have also been put in place for those who fail to comply and this also helps in protecting the environment (Stanley, Johnson & Gunther 1993).
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