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Unit of study_

LAWS5130: Environmental Law

Semester 1, 2023 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit will provide a framework for understanding contemporary environmental issues, outline the sources of environmental law and provide an overview of the different approaches to both global and domestic environmental regulation before examining a range of topical areas, including climate change, water management, mining , pollution control, waste management, environmental planning, development control and environmental impact assessment. Overarching themes will include the implications of state sovereignty for global environmental protection, the challenges of giving effect to the principles of environmentally sustainable development through legal structures and processes, the effects of scientific uncertainty on environmental regulation, and the importance of public participation for making the value judgements required in environmental governance.

Unit details and rules

Unit code LAWS5130
Academic unit Law
Credit points 6
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Katherine Owens,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment hurdle task Short-release Assignment (50%)
Short-essay question and answer
50% Week 08
Due date: 21 Apr 2023 at 16:00

Closing date: 28 Apr 2023
2500 word / 5 working days
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5
Assignment hurdle task Research essay (50%)
Written essay
50% Week 13
Due date: 29 May 2023 at 09:00

Closing date: 19 Jun 2023
3000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO5
hurdle task = hurdle task ?

Assessment summary

Short-release take-home assignment: 50%, due Friday, 21 April 2023, 4pm

The take-home assignment will be in a short-essay and question/answer format, and will deal with various aspects of the unit of study in order to allow you to demonstrate a critical understanding of the operation, key underlying concepts and issues arising from the various legal frameworks covered in the unit of study, in accordance with the unit of study objectives. It will be made available via the Canvas LMS site and the total word limit for the assignment will be 2,500 words, following the total word count rules applied in the research essay.

The take-home assignment will be released at 9am, Monday, 17 April 2023 and must be submitted in electronic form in accordance with the assignment submission guidelines below by Friday, 21 April 2023, 3pm

The take-home assignment may be no longer than 2,500 words in length, including footnotes. In particular, the total word count for the assignment will:

  • Exclude: bibliography; footnote numbers; footnote citations; cover page; research log and

  • Include: body text; headings and sub-headings; quotations; anything other than numbers and citations in footnotes


Research Essay (3,000 wd): 50%, due Monday, 29 May 2023, 9am

The research essay is designed to allow for a detailed and critical analysis of a particular international and/or national environmental issue. A list of topics will be distributed in the first class. The assessment task will further the objectives of the unit by developing your ability to conduct research in an area of environmental law, develop and present a coherent argument or set of arguments, written clearly and persuasively in a balanced and scholarly manner.

The research essay may be no longer than 3,000 words in length, including footnotes. In particular, the total word count for the essay will:

  • Exclude: bibliography; footnote numbers; footnote citations; cover page; research log and

  • Include: body text; headings and sub-headings; quotations; anything other than numbers and citations in footnotes

The essay must be submitted in electronic form in accordance with the assignment submission guidelines below by 9am Monday, 29 May 2023

At the end of the research essay, students will need to include a research log listing the cases, legislation, regulations, websites, and policy and academic literature they researched. A template for the log will be provided with the research essay questions. The log must include all relevant sources located, even if you do not ultimately cite them in your research essay. You do not need to follow a particular citation guide for recording your sources, but your descriptions must be clear enough to enable the source to be located easily at a later date.  Your research log will not be assessed specifically, but you must provide the research log at the same time as your research essay in order to satisfy the requirements of this assessment

The outcome of a grant of special consideration application may include an alternative task, at the discretion of the Unit Coordinator. The use of assistance in preparing and editing assessment tasks in this unit of study is strictly prohibited. Assistance includes human and automated writing tools (not including spell checking).

Check the word-count policy for this unit of study, which might differ from other units. In submitting your assignment, you are assumed to have understood the policy for this unit of study.

Word Limit Penalty: A piece of assessment which exceeds the prescribed word limit will attract a penalty of 10% of the total marks available for the piece of assessment for every 100 words, or part thereof. Inclusions and exclusions in the  total word count are detailed under each assessment task. 

Assessment requirement to pass a unit of study: A student must make a genuine attempt at all assessment tasks set out in this Unit of Study in order to obtain a Pass mark and grade (or above); otherwise an Absent Fail grade will be recorded as the student’s result for this Unit of Study. 


Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

  • Completely answers the question.
  • Contains striking originality of approach or analysis.
  • Demonstrates exhaustive or innovative research (where independent research required).
  • Exceptionally well written, structured and expressed.
  • Is otherwise exceptional in some way.


75 - 84

  • Completely answers the question.
  • Achieves a critical and evaluative approach to the issues.
  • Content and structure is well organised in support of the argument.
  • Demonstrates extensive research and analysis to support a well-documented argument.
  • Generally well expressed and free from errors.
  • Has a clear structure and is well articulated.


65 - 74

  • Covers main issues fairly well in answering the question.
  • Contains no significant errors.
  • Demonstrates an attempted critical approach to the issues.
  • Demonstrates reasonably sound research and analysis in addressing the key issues.
  • Has a clear structure and reasonably clear expression.


50 - 64

  • Identifies the key issues, but does not follow through with a reasoned argument.
  • Contains some significant errors.
  • Displays satisfactory engagement with the key issues.
  • Offers a descriptive summary of material relevant to the question.
  • Superficial use of material, and may display a tendency to paraphrase.
  • Demonstrates little evidence of in-depth research or analysis.
  • Adequate expression.
  • Overall, demonstrates the minimum level of competence in the assessment and satisfies the requirements to proceed to higher-level studies in the degree or subject area.


0 - 49

  • Does not answer the question.
  • Contains significant or numerous errors.
  • Few or no identifiable arguments.
  • Content that is inappropriate or irrelevant.
  • Lack of research or analysis.
  • Difficult or impossible to understand through poor grammar, expression or structure.
  • Overall, does not demonstrate the minimum level of competence in the assessment.

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

The late submission of a piece of assessment, which has not been granted an extension, will attract a penalty of 10% of the total marks available for the piece of assessment per calendar day or part thereof. A piece of assessment which exceeds the prescribed word limit will attract a penalty of 10% of the total marks available for the piece of assessment for every 100 words, or part thereof, over the limit.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Multiple weeks Climate Change: • Paris Agreement • Federal Legislation • Natural Disasters • Drought Resilience • Clean Energy Regulator • Offsetting Carbon Emissions • Climate Litigation Seminar (4 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Ecologically Sustainable Development: • History and General Principles • Precautionary Principle • Biodiversity • Intergenerational Equity • Improved Valuation and Incentive Mechanisms • Adaptive Management • ESD in the Courts Seminar (4 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 02 The Nature of Environmental Law: • Introduction and unit overview • Influence of the common law • Influence of international law • Land and Environment Court of NSW Seminar (4 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 03 Federal/State Relations: • Constitutional matters • Commonwealth responsibilities • State Responsibilities • The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) • Samuel Review of the EPBCA • Looking ahead to new legislation 2023 Seminar (4 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 07 Environmental Planning and Assessment: • Strategic Planning: SEPPs and LEPs • Development Control • Major Projects and Infrastructure • Environmental Assessment of Projects and Activities • Coastal Protection • Mining • Judicial Standards for Environmental Assessment Seminar (4 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 10 Biodiversity: • Biodiversity and the EPAA • Biodiversity Offsets • Protected Areas • Private Land Stewardship • Native Vegetation • Nature Repair Market Seminar (4 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 11 Pollution and Waste: • Pollution Control • Waste Management and the Circular Economy • Product Stewardship • Contaminated Lands Seminar (4 hr) LO2 LO3 LO4
Week 12 Enforcement: • Administrative Remedies • Civil Remedies • Criminal Enforcement Seminar (4 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Environmental impact assessment Seminar (4 hr) LO3 LO4
Week 13 Challenging Environmental Decision-making: • Standing • Merits Review • Judicial Review Seminar (4 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4

Attendance and class requirements

Attendance: All students are required to attend 70% of classes (or as otherwise specified by the Unit Coordinator) to satisfy the pass requirements for each unit of study.  Failure to meet this requirement may result in a student being precluded from sitting the final assessment.  

Referencing: The Sydney Law School expects you to use the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (4th edition, 2018) for your footnoting style, although you should confirm this with your lecturer, and a link to the library website where this is set out comprehensively is available at  

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

All readings for this unit can be accessed through the Library Reading List tab, available on Canvas.

The prescribed text is:

Rosemary Lyster, Zada Lipman, Nicola Franklin, Graeme Wiffen, Linda Pearson Environmental and Planning Law in New South Wales (5th ed., Federation Press, Sydney: 2021).

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. understand and utilise a range of perspectives from Indigenous peoples, science, economics and the social sciences in order to understand the nature of environmental problems, the sources of environmental law, ethical issues arising in the context of environmental law and the different approaches to environmental regulation
  • LO2. critically evaluate the influence of international environmental law on the development of Australian environmental law
  • LO3. identify, interpret and apply the content of environmental principles and explain the role of these principles in the evolution of environmental law
  • LO4. understand, analyse and appraise the framework and operation of laws relating to climate change, pollution control, water management, waste management, coal and CSG mining, environmental planning, development control and environmental impact assessment
  • LO5. research, critically analyse and develop arguments in relation to topical environmental issues, and communicate those arguments in a balanced and scholarly manner.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

The convenor welcomes feedback on how she can improve this unit of study.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.