The en­vi­ron­ment gets le­gal sta­tus

It is now an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial de­ci­sion-mak­ing and a driver of new busi­ness ar­eas

Business Day - Business Law and Tax Review - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREW GILDER & BU­SANI DHLADHLA

THE busi­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal law has wit­nessed a rapid evo­lu­tion in re­cent years and de­mand is in­creas­ing for high­qual­ity en­vi­ron­men­tal de­part­ments at larger law firms.

South African en­vi­ron­men­tal law has ma­tured and taken its place as an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial in­vest­ments and de­ci­sion­mak­ing and is a driver of cer­tain new busi­ness ar­eas, such as the set of bur­geon­ing mar­kets for en­vi­ron­men­tal com­modi­ties, in­clud­ing car­bon, wa­ter and bio­di­ver­sity off­sets.

Changes in the en­vi­ron­men­tal le­gal busi­ness model are re­flected in the re­nam­ing of prac­tices to in­clude con­cepts such as “sus­tain­abil­ity”, “en­vi­ron­men­tal mar­kets” and “nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment”. The new nomen­cla­ture re­flects emerg­ing aware­ness that the nat­u­ral en­v­i­ron- ment can­not be dealt with in iso­la­tion from the need for hu­man de­vel­op­ment. Mod­ern sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment law seeks to achieve this “con­nect­ed­ness” prac­ti­cally and these link­ages are re­flected in the evolv­ing busi­ness of en­vi­ron­men­tal law.

While en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion cer­tainly ex­isted be­fore the demo­cratic era, the in­cor­po­ra­tion of the “en­vi­ron­men­tal right” into the 1996 Con­sti­tu­tion, which ex­horts govern­ment to leg­is­late for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, led to the (then) Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs and Tourism im­ple­ment­ing a law-re­form process that, ul­ti­mately, pro­duced the cur­rent suite of en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion largely fall­ing un­der the aegis of the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Act No 107 of 1998.

These statutes are the en­vi­ron­men­tal lawyer’s tool­box and the con­text for their ap­pli­ca­tion has re­cently seen a marked shift aris­ing from:

In­creas­ing com­plex­ity of en­vi­ron­men­tal le­gal mat­ters and aware­ness of the link­ages be­tween these and other le­gal con­sid­er­a­tions;

A sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the im­por­tance of en­vi­ron­men­tal/sus­tain­abil­ity is­sues in com­merce and in­dus­try and a con­comi­tant el­e­va­tion in the ac­tual and per­ceived fi­nan­cial value of these is­sues; and

Height­ened com­pli­ance and en­force­ment ac­tions by the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs.

Among the in­di­ca­tors of the con­tex­tual shift is the in­creas­ing num­ber of en­vi­ron­men­tal law prac­ti­tion­ers em­ployed at larger “full ser­vice” firms of­fer­ing a num­ber of spe­cial­ist prac­tice ar­eas. This is a move away from the pre­vi­ous char­ac­ter of the mar­ket in which en­vi­ron­men­tal bou­tique (niche) law prac­tices dom­i­nated, based on a view of en­vi­ron­men­tal law as an­cil­lary to more main­stream com­mer­cial le­gal dis­ci­plines.

The fol­low­ing is a non-ex­haus­tive set of ex­am­ples of fac­tors con­tribut­ing to the in­crease in de­mand for the ser­vices of the larger law firms’ en­v­i­ron-

Changes in the en­vi­ron­men­tal le­gal busi­ness model are re­flected in the re­nam­ing of prac­tices to in­clude con­cepts such as ‘sus­tain­abil­ity’, ‘en­vi­ron­men­tal mar­kets’ and ‘nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment’

men­tal de­part­ments:

In­creased com­pli­ance and en­force­ment: South African en­vi­ron­men­tal law was long re­garded as be­ing com­pre­hen­sive and well-ar­tic­u­lated but lack­ing en­force­ment clout. This per­cep­tion is rapidly evap­o­rat­ing as a re­sult of the depart­ment estab­lish­ing the Com­pli­ance and En­force­ment Di­rec­torate (the Green Scor­pi­ons), which re­leases an an­nual re­port to record progress in en­force­ment — in­clud­ing by way of lit­i­ga­tion the im­po­si­tion of fines and as­so­ci­ated sanc­tions with fi­nan­cial im­pact (such as is­su­ing re­me­di­a­tion or­ders). In ad­di­tion, crim-



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