Local Nature Reserve Grassland credit Graham Peets

Environmental principles come into force in England

A new environmental principles duty came into force on 1 November. The duty reflects the government’s stated commitment to leaving the environment in a better state for future generations, ensuring that green issues are taken into account throughout the decision-making process. It is intended that this will help the government to meet the targets outlined in the Environmental Improvement Plan and will ensure that environmental impacts are always given due consideration when policy is drafted. Under the duty set out in the Environment Act 2021, ministers and policy makers must consider the environmental impact of new policies.

Under the duty, ministers and policy makers must consider the environmental impact of new policies, following a framework of key principles:

  • The integration principle, which is the principle that environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies.
  • The prevention principle, which states that government policy makers should aim to prevent environmental harm.
  • The rectification at source principle, which means that policy should address environmental damage at the source, to avoid the need to remedy its effects later.
  • The polluter pays principle, which states that where possible, the costs of environmental damage should be borne by those causing it, rather than the person who suffers the effects of the resulting environmental damage, or the wider community.
  • The precautionary principle, which provides that where the threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage exists, a lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

The duty applies to new or revised policies made across government, with exceptions for national security and spending decisions, and delivers on commitments included in the Environment Act 2021 for Ministers of the Crown to have legal due regard to these principles.

However, and as Ruth Chambers, in her comprehensive analysis from Green Alliance, sets out, there is still more to do:

“It shouldn’t be underestimated how powerful the impact of the environmental principles policy statement could be on systemising and promoting greater consideration of environmental protections in policy making.  But, for this to succeed over the long term, sustained commitment is needed across all the UK’s governments, removing the loopholes for spending and defence policy,  and repositioning of the environment as a top priority in cross government plans.”