Centre for Law and the Environment

Centre for Law and the Environment:
Satellites and the Law

Key ESRC Project Objectives

The broad objective of this research is to examine whether the dramatic step-changes in satellite technologies could now mean that they could be used operationally in the UK and EU to help ensure compliance with environmental laws. To demonstrate operational effectiveness in practice I will conduct original applied socio-legal research and analysis on lessons learnt from experiences with using satellites this way through a comparative international example. Australia has been chosen because it is the first and only sustained international example where satellite imagery is being used to monitor compliance with specific environmental legislation. This research will examine experiences and factors shaping Australian approaches to using satellite technologies and exploring their effectiveness in monitoring and enforcing tree clearance legislation in Australia.

The overall objective of this research is to explore and demonstrate whether the potential of the new technological capabilities of satellites can actually provide a rigorous, legally-reliable, and cost effective tool in inspection and compliance regimes under contemporary environmental legislation. I will use the results of this research to consider the relevance of potentially transferring this method of smart compliance to the UK and EU. This research will be the first substantive socio-legal research study, both in Australia and internationally, to address this broad objective and the detailed research objectives below systematically:

  1. To consider lessons from Australian experiences as to whether new high resolution satellite imagery can now be used as an environmental monitoring and compliance tool;
  2. To assess the operational effectiveness of existing Australian state satellite monitoring programmes (legal compliance, political, economic, technical and spatial, capabilities of regulators) and any constraints affecting its use as a compliance tool or lessons learnt in the Australian context;
  3. To investigate the awareness and attitudes of those regulated this way and evaluate how knowledge of being monitored by satellites is likely to influence compliance behaviour of those subject to regulation;
  4. To analyse whether satellite monitoring is seen as more or less desirable than conventional forms of inspection, whether it is seen as more confrontational method of regulation, and the impact on relationships and confidence it might have between those subject to regulation, regulatory authorities, policy makers and the community;
  5. To derive principles that can inform and advance debate in the UK, EU and amongst a wide international audience as to the merits of using satellites primarily as a compliance tool in the area of environmental legal systems, but also with implications for other legal monitoring as well.