European environmental law


There is a wide range of EU legislation in force concerning the environment. The main areas covered are:

Much of EU legislation to protect the environment is quite technical, in that it sets out detailed technical and scientific standards. It is also usual for the legislation to require member states to provide information to the European Commission about how they are implementing the rules and about how effective they have been.

In addition, there are several international conventions on environmental protection. In general, these are ratified by the EU and then implemented through EU legislation.

Implementing and enforcing EU legislation

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency are the main bodies responsible for implementing environmental legislation in Ireland. The principal environmental Acts are:

In addition, there is a range of Statutory Instruments implementing legislation concerning particular Directives. Information on these is available from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

EU enforcement of environmental legislation

EU environmental legislation is enforced in the same way as other EU legislation. The European Commission monitors its implementation and may bring individual member states to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failure to properly implement it.

Environmental crime covers acts that breach environmental legislation and cause significant harm or risk to the environment and human health. They include the illegal emissions or discharges into air, water or soil, the illegal trade in wildlife, illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances and the illegal shipment or dumping of waste.

Directive 2008/99/EC on the protection of the environment through criminal law was adopted on 28 October 2008.

EU policy on the environment

EU policy on the environment is reflected in its legislation and supported by some financial programmes. The 7th Environment Action Programme of the EU, entitled Living well, within the limits of our planet runs to 2020 and focuses on 3 priority areas for action:

  • To protect, conserve and enhance the Union’s natural capital
  • To turn the Union into a resource-efficient, green, and competitive low-carbon economy
  • To safeguard the Union's citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing

European Environment Agency (EEA)

The European Environment Agency (EEA) aims to support sustainable development and to help improve the environment through the provision of information to policy makers and the public.

Financial support for environmental projects

LIFE 2014-2020 is an EU co-financing programme which aims to contribute to the development, implementation and updating of EU environment policy and environmental legislation. LIFE also aims to facilitate the integration of the environment into other policies, and achieve sustainable development in the EU. The Regulation governing LIFE 2014-2020 (pdf) came into force in December 2013.

There are 2 sub-programmes: Environment and Climate Action. The Environment sub-programme covers environment and resource efficiency; nature and biodiversity; and environmental governance and information. Climate Action covers climate change mitigation; climate change adaptation; and climate governance and information.

Access to environmental information

If the information you want is not already publicly available you can use Directive 2003/4/EC to access it. This Directive on access to environmental information (AIE) provides that individuals have the right to access certain environmental information held by public authorities. The public authority must respond within one month of a request. Read more in our document on accessing environmental information.

Directive 2003/35/EC deals with public participation in decision-making. It provides that member states must ensure that mechanisms exist to facilitate public participation in decisions about the environment.

Page edited: 9 August 2016