The government has published its response to a public consultation that was held last year on developing an environmental principles statement to help guide policymaking across Whitehall departments. Here IEMA’s Head of Policy Ben Goodwin discusses the government’s response and changes made to the statement.

The consultation took place over a 12-week period and concluded early last summer. It was seeking the views of stakeholders on how key environmental principles should be used across government to help ensure that all policymaking takes environmental impacts and outcomes into consideration more effectively. The principles in question here are:

  • The integration principle
  • The prevention principle
  • The rectification at source principle
  • The polluter pays principle
  • The precautionary principle

IEMA responded to the consultation setting out a series of recommendations for improving the overall shape of the statement that the government had prepared. That response can be found here.

A key area of concern for IEMA was that the statement was missing a clear enough definition of ‘due regard’ and how it should be applied. This is the duty specified in the statement that government Ministers must exercise in relation to developing policy.

We are pleased that in its response to the consultation the government has recognised the need to embed an explanation of ‘due regard’ and its applicability into the updated draft statement that has now entered Parliament. We believe this will help to ensure that Ministers across government better recognise their legal responsibility to consider the natural environment more effectively in their approach to policymaking.

It is also welcome to see that case studies, diagrams and illustrations are to be developed by Defra setting out how and when the five principles contained in the statement should be used. These again were recommendations made by IEMA.

However, there are other aspects of IEMA’s recommendations (and those of other key stakeholder organisations) that have not been captured in the draft statement, which will carry implications for the long-term health of our natural environment.

These include the need for information and guidance on how the statement should be used in conjunction with existing government appraisal guidance e.g. Green Book. This will be critical when Ministers begin applying the principles later down the line.

Likewise, whilst the draft statement refers to the wider governance framework spilling out of the Environment Act e.g. Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs), this falls short of outlining in detail how it can help the achievement of EIPs and the long-term environmental targets framework, which is currently under development.

The draft statement will now be scrutinised by Parliament for 21 sitting days, concluding on 28th June. This is another opportunity to improve the shape of the statement. It is then likely to be finalised and published in the Autumn, with an implementation period to follow during which time Whitehall departments will familiarise themselves with how to use the statement.

Photo of Ben goodwin
Ben Goodwin

Head of Policy, IEMA

Ben joined IEMA towards the end of 2020 to take up the role of Head of Policy. In this capacity he looks after the delivery of IEMAs core policy and practice outputs across a range of environmental and sustainability issues.