Environmental Policy Developments

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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 limited resources where limited natural resources will be exhausted and species will become extinct; and reduce the impact on temporal and spatial variability, this is where the effects of environmental issues will affect future generations rather than present generations.

In order to understand the present policies adopted today, we must look at the historical impact of the environment and what initiatives were implemented back then. The Industrial Revolution not only brought economic growth to Britain in the nineteenth century but also pollution. The negative effects of industrialization resulted in poor air quality and there was pressure for the government to regularize the pollution levels by setting up the first national pollution inspectorate in 1865, the Alkali Inspectorate. This was later followed by legislation to regularize rebuilding of housing to meet higher environmental standards as well as the clearance of slums which was believed to have improved the ‘quality of life’ of the cities were where the population, businesses and activities were concentrated. The government passed the Town and Country Planning Legislation in 1945, which imposed restrictions on developments and created “green belts” around British towns. Poor air quality has been a major concern in Britain and in 1952 there were 4,000 reported deaths caused by urban smog which prompted the establishment of ‘clean air zones’ to prevent any such recurrence.

Growing worldwide concern and interest in the environmental issues lead Britain to establish the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution in 1969 to help formulate environmental policy and in 1974 the Control of Pollution Act was the first attempt to begin to codify national pollution standards. The Control of Pollution Act introduced stringent controls on pollutants and toxic substances however many deadlines and targets were missed as well as key provisions had still not been implemented many years later. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate...
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