Declarations are not an enforcement tool in the same sense as an abatement notice or prosecution, as they neither require an outcome nor penalise any actions taken by an offender. Declarations may, however, clarify whether any particular action or incident breaches, or complies with a plan rule, resource consent condition or regulation. They may provide a local authority, the EPA, the Minister of Conservation, or another party, greater certainty on whether or not enforcement action is warranted. 

Declarations are a broad discretionary decision by the Environment Court. There are no statutory statements of principle to guide the decision. The Court of Appeal has found that the discretion should be exercised liberally, so that even if the Environment Court finds the suggested formulation of the declaration too precise or restrictive, appropriate relief might be given (for example, by endeavouring to identify alternative wording).

It is not always necessary to seek a declaration separately from any enforcement proceedings. The Court can determine most matters as part of the enforcement proceedings.