October 12, 2023
In an era where climate change and environmental concerns dominate global conversations, the role of legislation in shaping a sustainable future cannot be overstated. Countries worldwide are racing to implement and fortify environmental laws, reflecting a shared commitment to safeguarding the planet. A UN Environment Report found that there was a 38-fold increase in environmental laws put in place since 1972. Let’s look at some countries that have enacted strict environmental laws in recent years.


Environmental laws often emerge in response to crises, disasters, or glaring instances of environmental degradation. Once implemented, these laws can bring about significant positive changes. Here, we highlight six of the most extreme and effective environmental laws from around the world that are making a substantial impact in safeguarding our planet.

  1. Ban on Fishing in Palau: Palau, a small Pacific island, has taken a groundbreaking step to address the global issue of overfishing. Recognising that nearly 90% of the world’s fish populations are overexploited, Palau designated a vast 500,000 square kilometer zone of water as a no-fishing zone. This move represents the largest such zone globally, aiming to restore and preserve marine ecosystems.
  2. Banning Cars in Urban Areas: Major cities worldwide, including New Delhi, Paris, New Mexico, Barcelona, and Beijing, have implemented temporary bans on cars to combat severe air pollution. Although a somewhat unconventional strategy, these temporary bans have proven effective in curbing pollution and encouraging the use of sustainable transportation alternatives.
  3. Banning Coal in Scotland and Vietnam: Recognising the environmental hazards associated with coal, countries like Scotland have taken decisive action by closing their last coal plant. Similarly, Vietnam canceled its coal ventures, signaling a shift away from this highly polluting form of energy. Such moves contribute to global efforts to transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.
  4. Banning Pesticides in Maryland: While the European Union has a stringent approach to toxic pesticides, the United States typically imposes bans only after clear links to human health issues are established. Maryland, however, is leading the way by proactively restricting a class of pesticides proven to be toxic, setting a precedent for more decisive action in the agricultural sector.
  5. Banning Plastic Products Worldwide: Plastic pollution has become a global environmental concern, leading countries to implement comprehensive bans on plastic products. Morocco, Kenya, and Rwanda have banned plastic bags entirely, while France has prohibited plastic cups, plates, and cutlery. New Delhi has taken an even more extensive approach, instituting a complete ban on all plastic, and Hamburg, Germany, has implemented a partial ban on non-recyclable coffee pods.

Environmental Democracy Index

The Environmental Democracy Index assesses and ranks countries based on the strength of their national laws protecting environmental democracy, including public participation and legal mechanisms for challenging government actions impacting the environment.

Lithuania leads the Environmental Democracy Index due to its robust Environmental Protection Law, enabling public challenges to government actions violating environmental rights and ensuring public input on climate-related decisions, while Latvia closely follows with strong transparency, public participation in climate decisions, and the legal right to challenge environmentally impactful governmental decisions.


Increase your Environmental Awareness

Find out more about environmental law in our guide!


Nations Paving The Way For Environmental Stringency

On a national level, let’s take a look at countries that have the most stringent environmental laws overall:

Germany: Pioneering Environmental Stewardship

Germany, renowned for its engineering prowess, is equally celebrated for its commitment to environmental protection. The country’s Energiewende initiative, launched in 2010, aims to transition to a more sustainable energy system. Germany’s renewable energy laws, including the Renewable Energy Act (EEG), have paved the way for increased use of wind, solar, and other renewable sources.

The country’s ambitious recycling programs and waste management regulations further contribute to its environmental stewardship. Germany’s emphasis on public participation in environmental decision-making sets it apart as a leader in democratic environmental governance.

Sweden: Leading the Charge in Sustainability

Nestled in the heart of Scandinavia, Sweden is often hailed as a sustainability trailblazer. The nation’s waste-to-energy programs, coupled with stringent emissions standards, exemplify its commitment to mitigating environmental impact. Sweden’s environmental laws are designed not only to regulate industries but also to encourage a societal shift towards sustainable practices.

The Swedish Environmental Code, encompassing a wide range of environmental considerations, reflects the country’s holistic approach to environmental protection. The Right of Public Access allows citizens to explore and enjoy nature while fostering a sense of responsibility for the environment.

However, failure to fully implement and enforce these laws is one of the greatest challenges to mitigating climate change, reducing pollution and preventing widespread species and habitat loss.  While there are still gaps in many of the laws, the substantial growth of environmental laws has been dramatic.

Denmark: Fostering Green Innovation

Denmark, renowned for its wind energy initiatives, is at the forefront of green innovation. The nation’s commitment to renewable energy is enshrined in the Energy Agreement for Growth, which sets ambitious targets for expanding wind energy capacity.

Denmark’s environmental laws also emphasize pollution control, sustainable urban planning, and the protection of biodiversity. The Danish tradition of involving citizens in decision-making processes fosters a sense of shared responsibility for environmental stewardship.

Finland: Balancing Nature and Industry

Finland’s robust environmental legislation reflects a delicate balance between industrial development and nature conservation. The Nature Conservation Act, enacted in 1996, safeguards biodiversity and promotes sustainable land use practices. Finland’s commitment to circular economy principles is evident in its waste management regulations and recycling initiatives.

The Everyman’s Right, granting citizens access to nature, is a unique legal concept that aligns with Finland’s emphasis on public engagement in environmental matters. This democratic approach underlines the nation’s commitment to environmental democracy.

Brazil: Balancing Economic Growth and Conservation

As the custodian of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil plays a pivotal role in global environmental conservation. The Brazilian Forest Code, with its stringent regulations on deforestation and land use, aims to strike a balance between economic development and ecological preservation.

Brazil’s environmental legislation also addresses issues such as water resource management and biodiversity conservation. Recent amendments to the Forest Code underscore the nation’s commitment to curbing illegal deforestation and promoting sustainable land use practices.

Canada: Navigating Vast Natural Landscapes

Canada, with its vast and diverse ecosystems, has implemented a comprehensive suite of environmental laws to address conservation challenges. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act empowers the government to regulate and manage toxic substances, ensuring the protection of both human health and the environment.

Canada’s commitment to sustainable development is evident in its focus on clean energy initiatives, wildlife protection, and carbon reduction targets. The nation’s legal framework reflects a nuanced understanding of the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and economic factors.

Filling The Gaps In Environmental Laws

While the growth of environmental laws globally has been dramatic, one of the greatest challenges remains the failure to fully implement and enforce these laws. 

The ambitious legal frameworks outlined by nations are often hampered by gaps in execution and enforcement mechanisms. This poses a significant hurdle in mitigating climate change, reducing pollution, and preventing widespread species and habitat loss. For example, despite its Environmental Protection Law 2015 which brought about stricter penalties for environmental violations, empowering authorities to shut down non-compliant businesses, China contributes to 30 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. India, which has had a law protecting air quality since 1981, makes up about 7 percent of these emissions.

Moreover, the interplay of global agreements, like the Paris Agreement, with national laws provides an intriguing landscape of collaboration and individual effort. How countries interpret and integrate these accords into local laws becomes essential for global coordinated action.

Key Takeaways

As we traverse the continents, it becomes evident that environmental laws are not mere legal frameworks; they are instruments of change, shaping the trajectory of nations towards a sustainable future. The strict environmental laws of these countries echo a collective acknowledgment of the urgent need to protect our planet.

The effectiveness of these laws, however, relies on robust enforcement and ongoing commitment. As climate change accelerates and environmental challenges intensify, the role of legal instruments becomes increasingly critical. The global community, inspired by the environmental frontiers explored by these nations, must collaborate to strengthen and amplify the impact of environmental laws worldwide.


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