Career Options in Environmental Law and Policy

Posted by Tanya Sharma on September 15th, 2021

Global Environmental Concerns

Sustainable development is a top priority these days that aims to develop a synergy between developmental activities, protection, conservation of the environment, equitable access to resources (inter and intragenerational), and protection of the rights of the vulnerable communities. Today\\\'s world needs highly skilled environmental law professionals who can be the torchbearer for the environment on diverse sustainability matters.

Unfortunately, the world is amidst an unprecedented environmental crisis that threatens our survival and well-being, and the Indian condition is no different. The top environmental problems of the present times are wildlife extinction, climate change, environmental pollution, and growing inequality in access to resources. The primary cause for this is the overburdening of the earth to meet the demands of the ever-increasing population. At the core of these challenges are greed, selfishness, and apathy. Any level of advancement in science and technology will not be able to address these challenges in the absence of a behavioral transformation, and these are to be supported by long-term environmental policies to ensure sustainable use of resources and concrete regulations for environmental justice.

Most environmental problems are not confined to national borders and are of international concern. India is a party to various international treaties, including the ones that aim to: curb the depletion of the ozone layer (Vienna Convention), keep the rise in earth surface temperature to acceptable limits (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), limit the import and export of hazardous waste (Basel Convention for the transboundary movement of hazardous waste), maintenance of biological diversity and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic diversity (Convention on Biological Diversity), and protection of endangered wildlife (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna). The international agreements have greatly influenced environmental laws in the country.

Indian Scenario

India, in fact, has been a frontrunner in taking legal measures for environmental protection and the Indian Constitution was the first in the world to confer constitutional status to environmental protection. The 42nd Constitutional Amendment act (1976) incorporated Article 48-A and 51A (g) in the constitutional framework. The former (48-A) mandates the state to endeavor to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the country\\\'s forests and wildlife. At the same time, article 51-A (g) prescribes a duty for the citizens to protect and improve the natural environment and have compassion for all living creatures. Besides, the right to a clean and healthy environment is an integral part of article 21 of the Indian constitution. These constitutional provisions are supplemented by several acts, rules, and notifications. Thus, constitutional and legal obligations of the state and citizens in India include a duty to protect the environment.

After the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the need to bring in a concrete and comprehensive framework for the environment was felt. The same year, the National Council for Environmental Policy and Planning was set up under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology. In 1985, the council was replaced with the full-fledged Ministry of Environment and Forests, and the Environment Protection Act, 1986 was passed.

Policy Perspective

The National Environmental Policy, 2006 (NEP)of India builds on earlier policies on environmental management and seeks to extend the coverage and fill the existing voids using existing and accumulated knowledge. The central aim of the NEP is to mainstream the idea of sustainable development in all growth and developmental activities. The objectives of the policy include the following:

  1. Conservation of Natural Resources
  2. Inter-generational equity in availability and distribution of resources
  • Intra-generational Equity for livelihood security of the poor communities
  1. Integration of Environmental Concerns in all social and Economic Developmental Plans
  2. Efficient use of Environmental Resources
  3. Environmental governance for accountability, rationality, transparency, and participatory and regulatory independence
  • Enhancement of Resources for the Conservation of Environment

Legal Framework

A sound legal framework and regulatory structure are in place for matters of environmental concerns. Pollution control boards and ground-level functionaries (Panchayats and Municipalities) are entrusted with specific responsibilities for protecting and conserving the environment.

In addition to a range of environmental laws, the National Green Tribunal Act was enacted to provide for the speedy and effective disposal of cases on the environment and led to the establishment of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The NGT is responsible for enforcing legal rights and providing relief and compensation for damages to person and property and for environmental matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Need of Professionals

Apart from the legal framework, to achieve sustainability goals, we need highly skilled and trained individuals who can draft laws and policies, litigate and defend cases, and resolve legal disputes on matters of environmental concern.

Comprehending and appreciating a policy document or a law appears to be daunting for non-specialized people. Any rule or regulation has plenty of technicalities owing to the standard practice involved in its drafting. A post graduate diploma in environmental law and policy in India is thus of added advantage in handling environmental issues

as the goal of such programs is to enrich the participants with the skills to engage in policy discussions, advise policymakers, draft new laws, and design regulatory regimes and regulatory standards (and revise them from time to time). Environmental attorneys are equipped with the expertise to manage disputes and tensions between economic development and the protection of the environment, protect the environment, and strike a balance between economic activities and environmental concerns. They are often called upon to handle tricky challenges, and since the scientific understanding of environmental issues is constantly evolving, these professionals have to ensure the law keeps up.

. The onus of balancing the demands from the private players (to relax the process of getting environmental clearance)with the need to protect the integrity and ecological balance of the environment falls on the shoulders of environmental law professionals. Environmental law professionals are involved in safeguarding disadvantaged groups\\\' rights and ensuring the environmental burdens of any developmental activity.  

Many of them represent the central and state governments and private firms before the courts of law and engage in ligation involving claims for personal injuries, asserting aesthetic values and ecosystem services, defending nature and wildlife, and challenging the legitimacy of policies.

Environmental lawyers also get to be engaged in consultations as representatives of governments, international agencies, non-governmental organizations, and corporations to deal with the global legal architecture to tackle issues unconfined by national boundaries. Besides, they also engage in the enforcement and appraisal of these legal frameworks. Climate change, or rather a climate crisis, is a hot topic these days. Climate change lawyers address climate change concerns and develop legal tools to promote and incentivize emission reduction (e.g., carbon tax). Similarly, energy lawyers design regulatory frameworks for conventional and renewable energy sources and help develop climate-conscious policies for the energy sector.

These days, environmental law and policy professionals are highly sought after with numerous job opportunities in government, private, and non-profit sectors. It is no longer the niche field it used to be until the last decade, and the outlook for a career in environmental policy is rapidly changing. 

Numerous opportunities in the executive and the legislative branches are available for lawyers to engage in environmental practice. From drafting legislation and regulations to defending and enforcing environmental laws, the activities of government lawyers are numerous and varied. The opportunities are unlimited, and individuals with a qualification in environmental law can be hired by conservation organizations, wildlife institutions, academia, research and development institutions, non-profit organizations, pollution control bodies, media houses, waste management and handling organizations, and various other sectors. 


Thus if someone has a real passion for the environment and sustainability, like millions of others, there has never been a more suitable time earlier to consider a career in environmental law and policy across the globe. 

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Tanya Sharma

About the Author

Tanya Sharma
Joined: October 19th, 2019
Articles Posted: 56

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