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Satellite Monitoring of Environmental Laws: Lessons to Be Learnt from Australia

Centre for Law and the Environment Research Report 2010

225 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2011  

Ray Purdy

Faculty of Laws, University of Oxford

Date Written: November 9, 2010


Current methods of monitoring and enforcement have made a substantial contribution to protecting the environment, but may not be so well suited to meeting future challenges. Those charged with environmental regulation are faced with an increase in the number of laws, which are applicable to a greater number of people. Given public sector finance constraints, we may have to devise new regulatory responses. There could be growing interest in whether satellite technologies could provide a cost effective legal tool in inspection and compliance regimes for next-generation environmental regulatory systems.

Satellite monitoring of environmental laws is still more theoretical than applied, its use having largely been limited to detecting fraud in the agricultural sector. Understanding amongst European Governments of the potential of using satellites in regulatory strategies is insufficient at the current time, because the development of satellites has been almost exclusively technology led to date. There has been little communication between the space sector and those in the legal field as to the immense improvements that have been made in what satellites can see, and consequently development of applications for use in an enforcement context has been stifled. The lack of empirical evidence on operational experiences and costs available to regulatory bodies has meant that there has been a poor level of the use of satellite technologies in regulatory strategies, relative to its full potential.

Australia has been using satellite data in a regulatory context for about ten years and there have been a significant number of cases where imagery has been used in the courts. Many lessons can be learnt from Australia which could be useful to regulatory bodies in Europe. This is particularly so because Australia has a federal legal system, so each State has a different experience of designing and implementing satellite monitoring programmes for vegetation clearance. The experiences of each of three States examined in this report throws further light on the operational effectiveness and cost of using satellite technologies in a regulatory context.

Keywords: satellite monitoring, environmental laws, technology, enforcement, regulation, compliance behaviour

Suggested Citation

Purdy, Ray, Satellite Monitoring of Environmental Laws: Lessons to Be Learnt from Australia (November 9, 2010). Centre for Law and the Environment Research Report 2010. Available at SSRN: or

Ray Purdy (Contact Author)

Faculty of Laws, University of Oxford ( email )

St Cross Building, St Cross Road
University of Oxford
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3UL
United Kingdom

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