Environmental Principles Policy Statement Published

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has published the latest draft Environmental Principles Policy Statement that aims to embed protections and enhancements for the environment in government policy-making.

Ministers across government have a duty to have due regard for five environmental principles when making policy. The policy statement published today is intended to ensure that ministers understand how to interpret and proportionately apply these principles.

The principles set out in the Environment Act and policy statement are:

    • The integration principle states that policy-makers should look for opportunities to embed environmental protection in other fields of policy that have impacts on the environment.
    • The prevention principle means that government policy should aim to prevent, reduce or mitigate harm.
    • The rectification at source principle means that if damage to the environment cannot be prevented it should be tackled at its origin.
    • The polluter pays principle means those who cause pollution or damage to the environment should be responsible for mitigation or compensation.
    • The precautionary principle states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, a lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

The Government initially consulted on the policy statement last year, but received criticism for the heavy caveating in the application of the principles, and lack of clear guidance in the draft document. We issued our own response to the consultation calling for strengthened wording and unambiguous requirements for ministers.

In response to this criticism, Government has strengthened the document to ensure there is clarity on the need to consider opportunities for environmental enhancement, and recognising policy can have both a positive and negative influence on the environment – a key recognition that CIEEM called for in our response.

The new draft also makes it clearer that the principles should be used from the outset in policy making, and subsequently through the process, which is a welcome development. However, the document retains caveats and the advice that policy makers use a ‘common sense’ approach, which introduces significant subjectivity and does not recognise the need for evidence-based input.

There is also no further clarification on what constitutes “sufficient evidence” under the precautionary principle, which states: “…in all cases for the precautionary principle to apply there must be sufficient evidence that the risk of severe or irreversible damage is plausible and real, and where choices are considered to prevent or reduce the environmental degradation in question they should be cost-effective.”

The draft statement has now been laid before Parliament for scrutiny before the final statement is published.