UK government unveils legally binding environmental principles to guide future policies


The UK government has unveiled plans for five new legally binding principles, designed to guide future policymaking to protect the environment and ensure Ministers deliver on their promise to "build back greener and leave the environment in a better state for future generations".

Defra last week launched a consultation on the principles, which it plans to put on a legal footing through the landmark Environment Bill, that is expected to return to Parliament this autumn ahead of the crucial COP26 Climate Summit in November.  

The new principles would inform all future government policies and would effectively replace similar principles that underpinned EU legislation.

Specifically, the new rules would require policymakers to adhere to:

  • the integration principle, which states that policy-makers should look for opportunities to embed environmental protection in other fields of policy that have impacts on the environment;
  • the prevention principle, which means government policy should aim to prevent, reduce, or mitigate harm;
  • the rectification at source principle, which means that if damage to the environment cannot be prevented it should be tackled at its origin;
  • the polluter pays principle, which statesthat those who cause pollution or damage to the environment should be responsible for mitigation or compensation;
  • And the precautionary principle, which states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, a lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice said the proposed principles would help "embed the environment in the design, development and delivery of the government's work".

"Our environmental principles are essential, and will ensure that ministers across Whitehall are guided to not just protect the environment, but tackle problems at their origin," he said in a statement. "This will deliver our pledge to leave the environment in a better state for future generations."

The new consultation on the draft policy statement on the five environmental principles will seek feedback on how they should be interpreted and proportionately applied.