Section 14 of Doing Business in Australia

Australian environmental, planning and climate change laws

In Australia, environmental, planning and climate change laws are principally regulated through State and Territory enacted legislation. Each legal framework is generally divided into two main categories:

  • environmental protection laws (including management of contaminated land, protection of threatened species, water rights, pollution and waste disposal, protection of Aboriginal and European heritage and native title rights); and
  • planning laws (regulating land use and development).

At the federal level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) regulates development that is likely to have a significant impact on ‘matters of national environmental significance’, through the implementation of an additional approval pathway. For example, a proposed development that is likely to have a significant impact on a nationally listed threatened species and/or ecological community, will require approval from the Federal Government, in conjunction with the standard approvals required at the State or Territory level.

In recent years, we have witnessed a growing trend by both state and federal governments to introduce complex pieces of legislation, policies and mechanisms, including increases to penalties, to regulate industry sectors and activities that have the potential to adversely affect the environment.

Companies looking to invest in Australia need to be informed about the everchanging complexities that underpin the planning and environmental legal framework, but also look at industry opportunities, government policies and programs that can create benefits to business and the environment. State and federal governments are planning for more growth and development.  We are seeing implementation of long term metropolitan and regional strategies as well as reforms to state planning laws.

Investments in infrastructure are encouraged and are creating world class service sectors and transport networks for Australian cities.

Investment opportunities in renewable energy sectors and low-emissions technologies are also on the rise. The Australian federal government has introduced a range of regulatory reforms aimed at reducing Australia’s carbon emissions and facilitating investment in renewable energy projects, including:

  • direct action policies on climate change, including the Emissions Reduction Fund, which provide financial incentives to business for emissions reduction activities;
  • the Large Scale Renewable Energy Target Scheme, requiring high-end energy users (typically wholesale electricity retailers) to acquire fixed amounts of electricity from renewable energy sources - scheduled to run until 2030; and
  • targets to reduce Australia’s emissions to 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 (based on Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement).

Importantly, the above regulatory measures are subject to change, being under constant review and scrutiny from policy makers and the wider public, highlighting the importance of needing to be informed and up to date on the latest developments and opportunities in this area of law in Australia.


This guide is current as of April 2021.

Expertise Area