October 19, 2021

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An overview of the UK environmental law and the hurdles it faces during implementation

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This article is written by Manisha Sharan, pursuing BBA LL.B (Hons) from the School of law, NMIMS. This is a profound article which deals with the environmental law of the United Kingdom and the implementation’s obstacles.

Table of Contents

The basic goal of an environmental policy is to establish the ideal environment’s objects or goals. In this study, environmental constitutional provisions, guidance notes, and policy documents on the environment and pollution were examined as different outlines of environmental policy. Furthermore, there are other instances where the contrast between environmental law and policy is more pronounced.

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The UK’s White Paper on the Environment signalled the commencement of the environmental policy and legislation changes, which would be followed by similarly remarkable policy and legislative efforts in other areas of the environment in a coordinated way. Among the European Community, the United Kingdom has emerged as a leader in decreasing pollution and improving the environment.

“Over the last decade, the United Kingdom has taken the lead in European environmental law, not least because it ensured that key concepts from the Environment (Protection) Acts 1990/95 were incorporated into the EC Directive 96/61 on integrated pollution prevention and control, which was issued on September 24, 1996. Britain can now modify major components of the integrated system already established by the Environment (Protection) Act 1990/95 to further European regulatory procedures within the new framework provided by the Pollution Prevention and Control Act 1999. In essence, Britain can unwind while it observes other EU members struggling to examine and reform the foundations of their environmental legislation.”

Environmental law: It covers the devolution mandates in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, as well as the extent to which environmental law differs, both substantively and procedurally, as a result of each administration’s exercise of devolved power. The focus is on the most important distinctions that practitioners should be aware of before entering this field. It also explores the effects of Brexit on devolution and environmental law.

  • Permits for environmental protection

In England and Wales, environmental permits are handled through the integrated environmental permitting (EP) regime, which has gradually amalgamated and replaced the several separate permitting systems that existed earlier. The Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Wales, and, in some situations, local governments have the jurisdiction to issue licences for a variety of regulated activities, and an operator must obtain a permit to engage in any regulated activity.

  • Air quality

When it comes to air quality, there are two primary types of regulations. Point source pollution regulation focuses on regulating the emissions to air of specified pollutants, particularly from industrial sites, whereas ambient air quality regulation focuses on regulating the concentrations of specific pollutants in the ambient atmosphere. Substance bans, such as the ban on chlorofluorocarbons, emissions trading under the EU ETS, and taxation, such as the Climate Change Levy, are also used in the UK to regulate air quality.

  • Pollution from a single source

The Industrial Emissions Directive 2010, which substituted the earlier Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control system, as well as the Medium Combustion Plant Directive 2015, controls emissions from industrial facilities and mobile plants. These regulations have been incorporated into UK law through the EP Regulations; as a result, environmental permits are required for activities that fall within their ambit.

  •  Discharges to water quality

The Water Resources Act 1991 regulates water contamination in England and Wales, and it applies to all ‘governed waterways,’ such as territorial waters, coastal waters, inland freshwaters, and groundwater. Based on the type of activity that causes the discharge, the substances in the discharge, whether the discharge is to groundwater, surface water, or a sewer, and whether the discharge is part of a larger industrial operation, several consents may be required.

Chemicals in the UK are governed by the EU’s REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) framework, which was established in 2006. The regime’s goal is to ensure that chemicals are utilised in a way that minimises any intolerable hazards to human health or the environment, based on open information exchange throughout the chemical supply chain.

How is the environment permitting regime works 

The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations are an important aspect of environmental legislation that establishes a single permitting procedure in England and Wales for industrial activities and waste operations. Regulated firms must apply for an Environmental Permit from the Environment Agency in England or Natural Resources Wales and follow its restrictions – or register for a licence.

Since its initial release in 2010, the EPR has been updated on a regular basis. The Regulations were completely harmonised with the EU Industrial Emissions Directive in 2013, and enforcement undertakings were added in 2015.

  • Site Condition Report (SCR)

An SCR provides a detailed account of the location, its operations, and its history. It’s an important part of your permit application. The type of environmental assessment required for each report is determined by the level of risk present and the extent of prior knowledge about past operations on the property.

  • Management, compliance, and enhancement of the environment

Your permit application is a vital internal document that gives guidance to management, and it should be utilised in conjunction with Regulatory Guidance Notes as a foundation for future improvement programmes.

  • Updates, amendments, and surrender

You must examine whether a variation is required whenever you change your operations, expand or contract your site boundaries, or make any other change that could affect the terms of your existing permit. Similarly, you’ll have to surrender your permission if you drastically curtail your operations – or shut down the facility entirely.

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The inherent divide between formal legislation and its execution may be found in many areas of law, but it poses special problems in environmental protection.

There are clearly defined victims with legal interests in areas of law such as competition, social security, and consumer protection who can and will guarantee that the law is followed. The environment, on the other hand, is frequently unowned in legal terms, resulting in the environment dying in silence, according to some.

Legal protection is mostly the responsibility of public authorities, such as the police, municipal governments, or specialised regulatory organisations, which is occasionally impeded by competing for policy aims and severe resource constraints.

  • Meagreness of political will and backing from stakeholder

Change in policy does not guarantee execution. It is critical to maintaining political and public support. Environmental flow policy requires political support at the highest levels to determine strategic direction, secure planning resources, champion environmental requirements with stakeholders, and enforce compliance.

  • Deficient capacity and resources

Without solid institutions with appropriate resources and capacity to carry it out, implementation will be impossible. Almost every case study conducted for this evaluation stated that execution was hampered by a lack of capability of some kind.

  • Environmental management

EU legislation is responsible for many of the UK’s environmental obligations. They are overseen and enforced by EU authorities, which have the authority to punish Member States who break EU rules. Existing goals will be preserved in UK law after Brexit, but EU institutions’ monitoring and enforcement functions are likely to be lost. This would result in what critics have dubbed an “environmental governance vacuum” if no substitute is found.

  • Loss of biodiversity

According to the 2019 Intergovernmental Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a million species are on the verge of extinction, with many facing extinction within decades. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) established a new worldwide framework for dealing with biodiversity loss in October 2020.

  • Waste and resources

England’s 2018 Resource and Waste Strategy outlined goals for a more circular economy, including the goal of “becoming a world leader in resource efficiency and lowering the amount of waste we produce as a society.” Following that, a series of discussions were held, with a special emphasis on decreasing unnecessary plastic waste. Reform of the packaging producer responsibility programme, a plastics tax, a deposit return scheme for drinks containers, and a ban on some single-use plastics was among the measures proposed. All of these will need further laws to be implemented. Recycling rates are also getting a lot of attention.

Air pollution, climate change, litter, trash, and soil contamination have been identified as the most pressing and visible environmental concerns in the UK today. And the burden of proof isn’t only on businesses to address each of these concerns; by making tiny incremental improvements on a daily basis, change may be brought about on a broader scale.

  • Uses of resources efficiently

Delivering more value with less input is what resource efficiency is all about. It may be as simple as turning off lights when a room is not in use or shutting off laptops when the day is done. These adjustments involve little work, yet they are the key to larger changes in the future.

  • Reduce waste

Avoiding waste production in the first place is the most practical method to decrease waste. Although paper is one of the most easily recyclable materials, this does not give us carte blanche to act recklessly with it. Before we publish, we should truly think about it. We live in a digital world, therefore looking for digital alternatives whenever and wherever feasible is a good idea.

  • Save Biodiversity

Reduced biodiversity is caused by technological advancements as well as a variety of other activities such as industrialisation, deforestation, rising pollution, global warming, and the ever-increasing human population. Every year, we lose a large number of plants, animals, marine insects, and other biological species. The importance of preserving biodiversity is sometimes neglected. This is because we believe we are doing well for ourselves despite the fact that many species have gone extinct, and that we will be unaffected even if a few more species go extinct. This is, however, a fallacy. Biodiversity is necessary for the effective functioning of our ecosystem.

By minimising the waste of natural resources, we, the general people, may contribute to biodiversity protection. We may also help by avoiding activities that pollute the environment, as pollution is the leading driver of biodiversity loss.

We also need to plant trees and urge others to do so. People frequently believe that their contribution will have little impact and so do not exert any effort. We will soon be making things tough for ourselves if every one of us thinks this way. We must all do our part to ensure that biodiversity is preserved. Over time, these little efforts might add up to a big difference.

Environmental restrictions, particularly in pollution- and energy-intensive industries, can have a negative impact on employment and productivity. These effects, however, appear to be minor and transient. The effects tend to be less in the long run than they are in the short run, implying that government measures like labour market restrictions might assist decrease or balance the transitory effects of environmental legislation. The negative consequences of human activities on the biophysical environment are known as environmental problems. The status of the environment in the United Kingdom has worsened dramatically in both urban and rural regions during the last decade. With a population of almost 67 million people, such a densely populated and technologically advanced country suffers from environmental degradation. The UK’s marine ecosystems have suffered a significant loss of quality as a result of climate change, rising seawater temperatures, and the overexploitation of marine resources. Human activity contributes to air pollution, climate change, trash, waste, and soil contamination in the UK.

  1. https://d2ouvy59p0dg6k.cloudfront.net/downloads/the_implementation_challenge.pdf
  2. https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/6-503-1654?transitionType=Default&contextData=(sc.Default)&firstPage=true 
  3. https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=e00bb7f6-7786-458a-baa1-26de9062e853
  4. http://www.eugeos.co.uk/environmental_compliance/environmental_permit.html
  5. https://hbr.org/1994/07/the-challenge-of-going-green 

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