Critically discuss and explain how law and policy endeavours to protect the environment
CRITICALLY DISCUSS AND EXPLAIN HOW LAW AND POLICY ENDEAVOURS TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT
“One of Gov’s objectives is high employment and maintaining high levels of growth: another objective is effective protection of the environment” if uncharitably regarded as competing rather than compatible critically discuss and explain how law and policy endeavours to protect the environment in light of such apparently contradictory and conflicting interests”
Unlike the usually quoted Brundtland Report definition, the “apparently contradictory and conflicting interests” of economic and social development and environmental protection are synonymous with a more modern definition of interdependent, but mutually re-enforcing interests, of sustainable development (SD),
“…meeting needs in ways which deliver social progress, protection of the environment, better resource use, economic growth and employment by having a stable and competitive economy.”
This definition, already previously used in UK and EU policies and legislation uses, a three-pillared approach making environmental protection marginally less important, when weighed against socio-economic development, as concentrating on present generation needs and addressing environmental damage rather than conservation of natural, possibly finite, resources for future generation’s use.
SD centers on economic growth and environmental protection not being conflicting interests, but being integrated into policy and legislation therefore enabling people enjoying a higher standard of living and job security without it being at the environment’s expense, and reconciling objectives which at first appear contradictory and competitive.
Global resources are diminishing and the surrounding environment, which enhances our quality of life and is a human right, is seen by many to be deteriorating as evidenced by the depletion of the ozone layer, pollution of air, land and rivers, production of toxic wastes, acid rain, forest degradation and climate change. Environmental protection has come to the front of many political and public environmental programmes as a result of world events and pressure groups. Whilst SD appeared on the agenda at the Stockholm Conference, the Brundtland Report identified the possibility of appeasing those who had environmental protection near the top of their policies, as opposed to those who regarded it less important, when compared to economic development.
As a concept, SD is nothing new and can be divided into two approaches: Sustainable Economic Development aiming to give successive generations no less capital than that enjoyed by the present generation and providing the same levels of consumption, and Sustainable Use of Resources and the Environment identifying a responsibility to conserve natural resources for successive generations.
SD requires legal, economic and social policy instruments in order to successfully face the challenges for supporting jobs, growth and environmental protection. After the Rio Conference it was seen that framework policies and legislation were needed to deliver environmental protection using SD. However, these soft laws, whilst not being binding on the ratifying nations, have provided many of the important environmental legal principles such as SD, “Polluter Pays” and “Precautionary” Principles.
As part of the industrial world the UK’s capital includes not only natural resources, such as soil, forests, air, rivers and fossil fuels but also institutional, human and manufactured capital, and environmental damage and pollution is the result of centuries of industrialisation and human activities.
The main objective of environmental law and policy is to protect the environment. In the UK this is now primarily found in legislation. The tort laws of negligence, nuisance, trespass and the rule in Rylands v Fletcher whilst are important, judicial review being used to challenge regularity bodies, have not been strong enough to provide total environmental protection as they are usually reactive, have restrictive criteria, do not reduce pollution and do not easily enforce liability for biodiversity damage.
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The UK environment has no legal personality, is under multiple ownership i.e. “cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum et ad infernos” and in order to sustain or improve it and provide a quality of life for future generations, policies and laws to curtail, prevent or control pollution or harm, conserve resources are needed.
Prior to the Stockholm Conference concern was more with the negative effects on human health of polluted water, air and land and lands use, rather than negative effects to the environment. The UK’s first attempt at environmental departmental co-ordination and environmental legislation was the Department of the Environment. This evolved into the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and is now responsible for Environmental Policy Instruments.
‘This Common Inheritance’ identified the challenge of integrating economic development and environmental protection. The Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and Environment Act (EA) consolidated many previous environmental policies and legislation, and rather than relying on voluntary self-regulation introduced the direct, or command and control, regulatory regimes of Integrated Pollution Control. Under the Environmental Agency’s responsibility and aims Integrated Pollution Prevention and Controls and Environmental Permitting are used, in addition to discharge or emission limiting regulations, to deliver SD by ensuring public access to documents, such as permit applications and decisions as well as setting standards for products and processes. ‘A Better Quality of Life’ identified integrating environmental protection with both economic and social development and was echoed in the Johannesburg SD approach which included social development and the eradication of poverty and social injustice.
UK environmental protection utilises three policy and law groups to protect against and avoid environmental damage. These are (1) assigning liability for pollution and environmental damage, “the Polluter Pays Principle”; (2) preventing or reducing pollution, “the Precautionary Principle” and (3) those that focus on the relationship between the need for socio-economic development and environmental management, i.e. SD and eco-management. The eco-management integrated approach places human needs alongside environmental ones, differing from SD as it recognises “man” as part of the environment and is not about competition between the demands of economic development and the environment, but seeks a natural equilibrium.
The EA extended environmental protection and identified SD by requiring balancing and integrating the interests and concerns of both environment and economy. However, UK environmental legislation emphasises developmental concerns rather than environmental protection and prevents the Environment Agency from prioritising environmental protection, by using Best Practical Means, or Best Available Techniques (not entailing excessive costs), to reduce the impact of environmental damage. The Environment Agency does not have total pollution controls as Local Authorities and other agencies have control over some areas, or have overlapping powers.
Events, Court judgments, International Conferences, soft laws, reports, pressure groups, public participation and industry have developed UK policies which integrate socio-economic development and environmental protection. However, 80% is derived from EC legislation. The ‘EU Sustainable Development Strategy’ sets out the complementary relationship between sustainable development as a principal objective of EU policy and the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs. ‘Securing the Future’ identified “quality of life” as main component of SD and the correlation between it and poverty and air quality. Sustainable consumption, production and communities, climate change and natural resources protection as priorities were recognised as priorities.
To achieve practical SD, when confronted with contradictory and competing interests, trade-offs may be required by taking into account each interests importance ie how efficiently we use resource energy and materials v labour productivity and environmental impact.
Legislative instruments have been passed to implement Government Sustainable Development policies in addition to the EPA and EA. Though mainly drafted for separate defined areas to control one problem, ie water, air, land, waste, energy, conservation and statutory nuisance, they are now part of laws covering, and sometimes cutting-across, various activities. By ensuring exploiting resources does not lead to unacceptable environmental degradation, promoting cleaner and more efficient machinery, eco-friendly consumer products, re-cycling and waste recovery these have gone some way to address the ways the use of natural resources may have adverse environmental impact, threaten eco-systems or quality of human life, therefore reducing environmental quality and obstruct SD.
Some UK environmental instruments have been shelved to comply with higher EC standards and legislation. While these instruments may be more flexible than command and control mechanisms, are environmentally beneficial and cost effective as reducing enforcement and monitoring, they could affect industrial competitiveness and conflict with other policies, therefore less effective.
Whilst SD recognises that if man is to benefit from a quality of life encompassing socio-economic development and environmental protection “…[he] needs to be part of nature and not an outside force destined to dominate and control it as…if he wins then he may be on the losing side” it is contradictory.
Many natural resources are finite and SD not necessarily benefits everyone, may restrict personal freedoms so possibly contrary to social development and also challenge the “dead-hand” control of future generations and the Rule Against Perpetuities principles. Choosing resources which may be valuable now, might be valueless to future generations, and the concept of need is different to different people, eg recreational v planted fields.
The relationship between economic growth and water quality indicators shows that economic growth does not always contribute to environmental degradation. Economic growth may provide extra money for improving or maintaining environmental quality ensuring sustainability and reinforcement of social unity. Social policies can stabilise economic functions by helping people to be environmentally responsible. Environmental policies for waste management, conservation and pollution control help preserve natural resources and enhance the quality of life. Environmental legislation, as not always scientifically based, does not necessarily benefit everyone; compliance increases costs and enforcement and implementation can be inconsistent.
Even though regulation gives everyone from producers downwards less maneuverability, SD can probably reconcile the conflicting objectives of socio-economic development and environmental protection in the short-term, if in this current economic climate wealthy nations are willing to.However, long-term this may prove more difficult. Unless present generations accept what they may consider as a lower standard of living, it may be impossible to conserve or improve the environment, harmonise free-trade as hoped for or, in the UK, achieve the four objectives of social progress, prudent use of natural resources, maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment and effective environmental protection.
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