World Conservation and Wildlife Trust

Fighting to protect the World's Marine Life, Wildlife, Biodiversity and Population.

Humans + the Environment

Due to the pressures of population and our technology the biophysical environment is being degraded, sometimes permanently. This has been recognized and governments began placing restraints on activities that caused environmental degradation. Since the 1960s activism by the environmental movement has created awareness of the various environmental issues. There is not a full agreement on the extent of the environmental impact of human activity and protection measures are occasionally criticized.

Academic institutions now offer courses such as environmental studies, environmental management and environmental engineering that study the history and methods of environmental protection. Protection of the environment is needed from various human activities. Waste, pollution, loss of biodiversity, and the introduction of invasive species are some of the issues relating to environmental protection

Evolving approaches to environmental protection

Discussion concerning environmental protection often focuses on the role of government, legislation and enforcement, however in its broadest sense environmental protection may be seen to be the responsibility of all people and not simply that of government. Decisions that impact on the environment will ideally involve a broad range of stakeholders including industry, indigenous groups, and environmental group and community representatives. Gradually environmental decision-making processes are evolving to reflect this broad base of stakeholders and are becoming more collaborative in many countries.

Environmental protection is influenced by three interwoven factors: environmental legislation, ethics and education. Each of these factors plays its part in influencing national level environmental decisions and personal level environmental values and behaviors. For environmental protection to become a reality it will be important for societies to develop each of these areas that together will inform and drive environmental decisions. Although environmental protection is not simply the role of government agencies they are however generally seen as being of prime importance in establishing and maintaining basic standards that protect both the environment and the people interacting with it.

Outlined below are several approaches to environmental protection that are currently evolving. Further discussion on approaches to environmental protection is included on the pages related to natural resource management, environmental governance and environmental law.

Voluntary Environmental agreements

In industrialized countries voluntary environmental agreements often provide a platform for companies to be recognized for moving beyond the minimum regulatory standards and thus support the development of best environmental practice. In developing countries such as throughout Latin America, these agreements are more commonly used to remedy significant levels of non-compliance with mandatory regulation. The challenges that exist with these agreements lie in establishing baseline data, targets, monitoring and reporting. Due to the difficulties inherent in evaluating effectiveness their use is often questioned and indeed the environment may well be adversely affected as a result. The key advantage of their use in developing countries is that their use helps to build environmental management capacity.

Ecosystems approach

An ecosystems approach to resource management and environmental protection aims to consider the complex interrelationships of an entire ecosystem in decision making rather than simply responding to specific issues and challenges. Ideally the decision-making processes under such an approach would be a collaborative approach to planning and decision-making that involves a broad range of stakeholders across all relevant government departments as well as representatives of industry, environmental groups and community. This approach ideally supports better exchange of information, development of conflict resolution strategies and improved regional conservation.

International Environmental Agreements

Many of the earth’s resources are especially vulnerable because they are influenced by human impacts across many countries. As a result of this many attempts are made by countries to develop agreements that are signed by multiple governments to prevent damage or manage the impacts of human activity on natural resources. This can include agreements that impact on factors such as climate, oceans, rivers and air pollution. These international environmental agreements are sometimes legally binding documents that have legal implications when they are not followed and at other times are more agreements in principle or as codes of conduct. These agreements have a long history with some multinational agreements being in place from as early as 1910 in Europe, America and Africa. Some of the most well-known multinational agreements include: the Vienna Convention of the Protection of Protocol and Rio Declaration on Development and Environment.


Many Constitutions acknowledge the fundamental right to environmental protection and many international treaties acknowledge the right to live in a healthy environment.

But complete environmental protection seems impossible at this current global position.

Also, many countries have organizations and agencies devoted to environmental protection. There are International environmental protection organizations, as the United Nations Environment Programme.


Challenges in environmental protection

·         The main issues for developing countries like Brazil and Mexico are that protected areas suffer from encroachment and poor management. In Brazil, protected areas are increasing but there is significant challenges caused by human impacts. Logging and mining are potentially huge threats to protected areas. Between 1998 and 2009, 12,204 km2 of forest within protected areas was cleared, with 1,338 mining titles being granted and 10,348 awaiting approval. Developing countries need to allocate more money from their budgets if they hope to address these problems in environmental protection.

·         Several challenges face African governments in implementing any environmental protection mechanisms. In Tanzania for example the challenges include: lack of financial resources to manage protected areas, poor governance and corruption and significant illegal logging and hunting. Also with such large allocations of land to national parks has been the displacement of indigenous people and a lack of local participation in environmental decision making processes. As a result of these factors recent calls have been made to allow “parks with people” as one means to support better overall management and care of the land.

·         Due to the Australian climate being dominated by desert and semi-arid regions, most of the environmental protection challenges focus on availability and management of water resources. Even though this will continue to be an issue in areas of great demand, such as the Murray-Darling basin, several events were pivotal battles in environmental protection