Environmental principles duty comes into force

Under the duty set out in the Environment Act 2021, ministers and policy makers must consider the environmental impact of new policies

A new environmental principles duty - a measure to ensure the environment is at the heart of governmental policy making - comes into force today (Wednesday 1 November).

The duty reflects the government’s commitment to leaving the environment in a better state for future generations, ensuring that green issues are taken into account throughout the decision-making process. This will help the government to meet the targets outlined in the Environmental Improvement Plan and will ensure that environmental impacts are always given due consideration when policy is drafted.

Under the duty, ministers and policy makers must consider the environmental impact of new policies, following a framework of key principles:

  • The integration principle, which is the principle that environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies.
  • The prevention principle, which states that government policy makers should aim to prevent environmental harm. 
  • The rectification at source principle, which means that policy should address environmental damage at the source, to avoid the need to remedy its effects later. 
  • The polluter pays principle, which states that where possible, the costs of environmental damage should be borne by those causing it, rather than the person who suffers the effects of the resulting environmental damage, or the wider community.
  • The precautionary principle, which provides that where the threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage exists, a lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. 

The duty applies to new or revised policies made across government, with exceptions for national security and spending decisions, and delivers on commitments included in the Environment Act 2021 for Ministers of the Crown to have legal due regard to these principles.

 Nature Minister Trudy Harrison said:  

"This government has gone further and faster to protect nature than any other, and the introduction of this duty further reaffirms our commitment to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.  

"Considering the environment across government policy will support our wider efforts to restore halt species loss and protect our much-loved landscapes, green spaces and the marine environment."

The principles are designed to guide policymakers towards opportunities to prevent environmental damage and enhance the environment. These are internationally recognised as successful benchmarks for environmental protection and enhancement. 

The duty is outlined in detail in the Environmental Principles Policy Statement, published earlier this year, which outlines how to interpret and proportionately apply the principles. Ministers and the officials advising them on policy need to thoroughly consider these principles throughout the policy development process.  

Work has been underway to implement the new duty across government, including working with policymakers, lawyers and analysts.

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will monitor and report on implementation of the duty across government. 

Environmental protection is devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, subject to a small number of reserved areas. Therefore, each devolved administration can legislate individually for the Environmental Principles in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
Trudy Harrison MP