Environmental law has been around for a very long time. Its first mention is in Deuteronomy 23: 12-13 concerning sewage disposal!
Early law focused on the protection of rights associated with property which might have an indirect environmental benefit, but over the centuries the emphasis has shifted to direct environmental protection, and from local (e.g. noise) to global (e.g. climate change).
Environmental law was one of the faster developing areas of law at the end of the last century. It’s difficult now to find an area where legislation doesn’t apply. Those laws tended to favour fixed limit controls for emissions, but as we get established in the 21st century, successive governments have updated laws based on voluntary and market based approaches, which is having an affect across the whole supply chain.
The emphasis of regulatory control has also shifted to now include ’producer responsibility’ or pay for what you pollute. The introduction of the ‘precautionary principle’ laws are made from scientific analysis of our effect on the environment with the aim of curbing those actions (e.g. phasing out ozone depleting substances). This has meant that from an environmental perspective, the UK is highly regulated, but arguably better protected and cleaner with lower emissions than 25 years ago.
However, is this increase in regulatory change a good thing for business or are UK companies sinking under the mountain of red tape that changes to regulation often bring?
The European Commission and the UK Government are beginning to understand this and are looking at whether the burden and design of environmental regulation is appropriate.
Defra’s Red Tape Challenge is one such programme designed to remap the environmental regulatory landscape for the better by reviewing all environmental law and associated guidance, with the aim of cutting out often seemingly conflicting regulations, and the thousands of pages of guidance that accompany them.
The results of which are being seen right now with the consolidation of regulations (e.g. ozone depleting substances Regulations 2015), and removal of out of date or ineffective law (site waste management plans Regulations).
So, in summary, environmental law will continue to get updated as market forces continue to influence the political landscape, our understanding of the effects of pollution broadens, and law writers continue to make spelling mistakes!