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Environmental Policy Developments

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Environmental Policy Developments

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  • June 2008
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Environmental policy making emerged in the 1960s when new environmental imperatives forced environmental policy-makers to confront the environment as a broad level issue. The notion that economic growth takes precedence over environmental protection has governed the way in which many environmental policy-makers approach the environment, it was believed that environmental problems were the unfortunate side effects to economic growth. In the 1970s and 1980s governments adopted a standard approach to environmental problems known as the ‘traditional policy paradigm’ where they tended to be informal, reactive, tactical, and end of pipe. The traditional policy paradigm has proven ineffective with addressing current environmental problems because it dealt with the symptoms of the problem and not the causes. In the late 1980s an alternative policy paradigm was introduced, ‘sustainable development’. This new school of thought allowed policy-makers to no longer think of the economy versus the environment.

Environmental policy in the UK covers a wide field of government activity from releases of industrial wastes to air, land and sea, to energy consumption, urban transport, urban planning and regeneration, building conservation, genetically modified organisms, to the protection of flora and fauna as well as the countryside. So why should governments implement these policies? The rationale behind implementing environmental policies is to avoid ‘market failure’; market failure is where an individuals' pursuit of self-interest leads to bad or catastrophic results for the society as a whole. There are a few types of market failures that justify the government’s actions and some of these are protection of public goods which can be in the form of “common pool” resources like fauna, forests, and fish stocks or “common sink” resources fresh air ; addressing transboundary problems in the case of climate change, ozone depletion and marine pollution; the irreversibility of...