About us

Learn about the purpose and aims of the New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law.

Working for sustainability

The NZCEL conducts legal and interdisciplinary research into environmental law and governance, including its conceptual foundations, implementation and enforcement. New Zealand’s environmental legislation is among the most advanced in the world and many of NZCEL’s activities are focused on sustainability issues. NZCEL has pioneered the field of sustainable development law, integrating environmental, social, cultural and economic policies on the basis of ecological integrity. These activities have been advanced through participation by its members in international and national conferences and symposia, by internationally published books and articles, and by production of the New Zealand Journal of Environmental Law and the NZCEL Monograph Series.

Two NZCEL members are pioneers in the development of ecological approaches to environmental law. This requires human activities and aspirations to be determined by the need to protect and restore the integrity of ecological systems. Klaus Bosselmann has been instrumental in the establishment of the Ecological Law and Governance Association.

The NZCEL coordinates an extensive environmental law postgraduate programme at the Auckland Law School. The programme has a wide range of subjects taught as intensive courses or semester-long courses and supervisions of a large number of Masters and PhD students. Our programme involves the active participation of PhD students in dedicated subject areas, research projects and other activities. Academic members of NZCEL are well recognised leaders in their fields, representing a wide spectrum of research interests.

PhD students are particularly encouraged in the following areas:

  • International environmental law and governance;
  • Sustainability law and the precautionary approach;
  • Constitutional frameworks for sustainability;
  • Ecological legal theory;
  • Human rights and the environment;
  • Climate change and energy law;
  • Biodiversity law;
  • New Zealand resource management and environmental law;
  • Environmental law and indigenous peoples.

The Centre's aims include:

  • Develop monodisciplinary and multidisciplinary research programmes in the various fields of environmental law and policy. 
  • Explore the relationship between environmental law and the Treaty of Waitangi and developments in environmental law in relation to the aims, aspirations and rights of Maori and other indigenous peoples. 
  • Develop programmes to encourage and support graduate research on environmental law and policy.
  • Provide a wide range of expertise for consulting services. 
  • Establish links with relevant research centres and environmental law associations in New Zealand and internationally.
  • Organise conferences and seminars for scholars and researchers, the legal profession, government agencies and business.
  • Make submissions to government on environmental law reform proposals.
  • Publish research.

Our research

In addition to the New Zealand Journal for Environmental Law and the Monograph Series, NZCEL members publish their research in a diverse range of books, journals and other publications. Publication lists can be accessed via our people.

Recent highlights

Seeking an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on Climate Change.

NZCEL members, together with prominent New Zealanders and key civil society organisations, recently urged the Government to support an initiative requesting the ICJ for an Advisory Opinion (AO) on the obligations of states to protect the rights of present and future generations from climate change. The ICJ AO initiative was spearheaded by Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change, with the support of the Vanuatu Government. Prue Taylor published an opinion piece ahead of the recent Pacific Islands Forum meeting "NZ should show real solidarity with the Pacific by embracing climate action".

The Final Forum Communique expressed unanimous support and called upon the United Nations General Assembly for a resolution requesting an advisory opinion. Leaders will work in ‘close collaboration’ to develop the specific legal question. See "Communique of the 51st Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting".

The New Zealand Government’s Response to the Wai 262 Report: the first ten years

New NZCEL member Jayden Houghton recently published the above article in the International Journal of Human Rights (2021) 25(5) IJHR 870. This article provides a timely and important critique of the New Zealand government’s response to the Waitangi Tribunal’s Ko Aotearoa Tēnei (Wai 262) report, on the ten year anniversary of its release.

Local Government Law in Aotearoa New Zealand – 2nd Edition

NZCEL member and retired Associate Professor Kenneth Palmer recently published his fourth major text on local government law. This text deals comprehensively with a rapidly evolving area of law including all relevant changes since publication of the first edition in 2012. It is a remarkable achievement and a testimony to the expertise and reputation of New Zealand’s leading local government and resource management law scholar.

Global Regulatory Standards in Environmental and Health Disputes: Regulatory Coherence, Due Regard and Due Diligence

Professor Caroline Foster recently published her latest book with Oxford University Press. It explores the role of international courts and tribunals in the development of global regulatory standards, contributes to current conceptual debates and offers practical advice to international judges and arbitrators. Caroline’s book was launched in collaboration with Australian National University. You may see the recording of the book launch: 'Global Regulatory Standards in Environmental and Health Disputes'.

Global Regulatory Standards in Environmental and Health Disputes

Climate Change NOW – covering the local, national and global

NZCEL members have been actively covering climate change issues in the media and publications. Prue Taylor recently published on NZ’s NDC and the Net-Zero issue, in the Lexis Nexis Resource Management Journal (Volume 13). David Grinlinton opined on Auckland’s transport issues in this Herald article and Klaus Bosselmann published a Herald opinion piece on COP 26, see COP 26 - A Greek Tragedy  

Sustainability and Property Rights Conference – 17 June 2021

NZCEL is partnering with the Institute for Environmental Law, University of Augsberg, Germany to present a collaborative conference profiling academics from both institutions. This conference focuses on the topic from the perspective of both the German and New Zealand legal jurisdictions.

For more information contact martin.kment@jura.uni-augsburg.de

National Climate Change Acts

The Emergence, Form and Nature of National Framework Climate Legislation (ed) Thomas Muinzer, Hart Publishing 2020.


This ground breaking book collects contributions from many of the world’s leading climate and energy scholars and provides the first major study of national Climate Change Acts. In addition to broad internationalist chapters, deep-dive national case study chapters are included for individual countries. These include Mexico, Denmark, France, Ireland and Sweden. Prue Taylor contributed a chapter on New Zealand’s Zero Carbon legislation which was still before Parliament at the time of writing.

Improving biodiversity values through urban development

The idea that ecosystems could be better off because of human development clashes with assumptions that the best we can do is not make things much worse. But countries are exploring the idea that subdivisions or farming or any development activity contributes to improving biodiversity values. That is, demonstrate biological diversity, a measure of ecological health, will be better off because of a proposed development. Stephen Knight-Lenihan is researching into how the uncertain science, resting heavily on biodiversity offsetting, can be used effectively by legislators and regulators in this contentious field.  

Knight-Lenihan, S. (2020). Achieving biodiversity net gain in a neoliberal economy: The case of England.

Using Law and Policy for Greater Protection of ‘Green Spaces’

Professor David Grinlinton was the PI for a Faculty Research Development Fund project to examine the use of legal mechanisms such as conservation covenants and access easements to give greater access to green spaces while protecting the ecological values of those areas. In collaboration with Professor Chris Rodgers of the Newcastle University Faculty of Law in the UK, the project involved a comparative examination of the law and policy in New Zealand, Scotland, and England and Wales. The research produced some findings on the efficacy of various statutory and common law mechanisms, and will be useful for lawmakers in the UK and New Zealand, and in other countries undertaking law reform in this area. An article containing the results of the research entitled “Covenanting for Nature: A Comparative Study of the Utility and Potential of Conservation Covenants” is forthcoming in (2020) Modern Law Review, Vol 83, Issue 2, 373-405. 

The Crisis in Global Ethics and the Future of Global Governance: Fulfilling the Promise of the Earth Charter (edited by Peter D. Burdon, Klaus Bosselmann and Kristen Engel)

Calling for a renewed discussion on global ethics, this book responds to two seminal works on global ethics and the Earth Charter, written by J Ronald Engel. It aims to inspire an active movement that can reclaim the moral high ground and motivate the vision of a just, sustainable future. Klaus Bosselmann and Prue Taylor (both involved in the drafting of the original Earth Charter) contribute chapters. Klaus addresses global ecological constitutionalism and Prue has written a chapter on the life and work of Ronald and his wife, a renowned poet, Joan Engel.

What does sustainability mean for administrative law in Germany? And how can the principle best be applied, especially in environmental and planning legislation? These questions took Martin Kment, a German Professor of Law, to New Zealand to undertake a
comparative analysis of the New Zealand and German legal systems. The analysis, which was completed after two intensive years of academic research at the University of Auckland, was recently published. The monograph is published in German under the title “Die Neujustierung des Nachhaltigkeitsprinzips im Verwaltungsrecht – Lückenschluss in der Nachhaltigkeitsdogmatik nach neuseeländischem Vorbild“ (‘Readjusting the Principle of Sustainability in Administrative Law – Closing Doctrinal Gaps using the New Zealand Model’). It aims to have a significant influence on the sustainability-debate in Germany, Europe and in other countries dealing with this important principle of law. The monograph has already generated particular interest from German scholars. This is because it has enabled comparison and because it provides a welcome source of new approaches to apply sustainability to environmental law.

Dr Kment is a visitor and regular contributor to the work of NZCEL.

Readjusting the Principle of Sustainability in Administrative Law book cover

Professor Grinlinton recently published the above work as a chapter in the International Yearbook of Soil Law and Policy 2018 (pp 55-82). David’s chapter provides a comprehensive overview of New Zealand’s environmental management framework for soils. He uses a representative group of recent cases to examine the factors and criteria used by the courts to resolve conflicts between property owners and regulatory authorities. This work is particularly timely. In response to growing concern about the loss of high grade soils to urban expansion, the Government has announced the development of a national policy statement for Versatile Land and High Class Soils. This chapter provides valuable context for input into this national policy guidance. Protecting our valuable land.

Hon Peter Salmon QC and Professor David Grinlinton with Environmental Law in New Zealand 2nd Edition
Klaus Bosselmann, Polly Higgins, Prue Taylor and Massimiliano Montini at the launch of Ecological Approaches to Environmental Law, in Sienna.

Visiting Academics Programme

Each year NZCEL invites some of the world’s leading environmental law scholars to teach intensive Master courses. Distinguished environmental law scholars may contact NZCEL if they are interested in visiting or taking a guest lecture.

  • Visitors to NZCEL have included:
    Professor Joanne Scott from University College of London taught an intensive course on European Environmental Law and Governance.
  • Professor Christina Voigt from the University of Oslo taught an intensive course on Climate Change Law.
  • Dr Janice Gray from the University of New South Wales taught an intensive course on Water Law and Policy.
  • Dr David Vanderzwaag from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada taught an intensive course on Oceans Law and Governance.
  • Professor Donald Brown from Widener University School of Law, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania taught an intensive course on Climate Change Law, International Developments and Prospects.

Among semester-long courses in the postgraduate programme is Global Environmental Law taught by Professor Klaus Bosselmann and Selected Issues in Environmental Law taught by Professor David Grinlinton.

For more information see the postgraduate prospectus.

Opportunities for student engagement

The Law School offers a range of opportunities for students to engage in the research work of NZCEL. The two primary opportunities are through the Summer Scholarship and the Community Placement programme. Academic staff also employ students as research assistants.