The majority of modern environmental policy in the United Kingdom stems from membership of the European Union (EU).
Before joining the EU, Britain’s environmental policy was fragmented and varied across different sectors of industry, with no overarching directive to police and prosecute environmental aims.
Industry was in constant battle with government over policy direction, with many environmental responsibilities being allocated to the third sector.
This mosaic of varying policy came to an end with the introduction of environmental protection legislation in 1990, which pushed into statute the requirement for all industry to be held to account under one legal framework recognisable throughout the country.
The European Directive, Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), shifted attitude from one of industry versus ecology, to sustainable development as the government’s position on infrastructure and new technology. By the turn of the new millennium, the British Labour government concluded that the ‘command’ and ‘control’ system of regulation was not achieving adequate results; particularly in light of further potential global agreements that would put yet more pressure on the Department for the Environment.
Command and Control was largely a reactive policy which only came into effect when industry strayed from compliance. Not only was this hardly forward-thinking, it was easier for companies to execute under this initiative the option of not legitimately declaring the extent of their pollution.
2004 saw the introduction of emissions trading, Britain being the first in Europe to introduce such a system, after its limited but promising success in the United States. With the introduction of emissions trading it became apparent that flexibility and choice in policy was more effective and persuasive to industry. Therefore, the British government created further individual initiatives that firms could flexibly implement rather than having to adhere to a top-down, nationwide directive indifferent to variation within industry itself. The Capital Allowance system, for example, provides a business-tax rebate to all companies considered to be operating at an acceptable standard with respect to environmental law.
As Britain’s faces the possibility of a future global treaty, so change in environmental direction is again being advocated. In the current recession, lobbyists and powers such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) have called for carbon emission targets to be scrapped, yet environmental demands will not go away. The issue must be recognised by British industry as one that cannot be ignored, only implemented; this is not an impossibility. In order for future industry and governments to engage productively, future policy must make greater use of flexible initiatives that offer a choice in the route towards a greener Britain, such an adjustability in the short-term may prove not only more attractive to industry but ensure the long-term future of Britain’s environmental policy at a national level.
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