Environmental policy

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Environmental policy refers to the commitment of an organization to the laws, regulations, and other policy mechanisms concerning environmental issues and sustainability. These issues generally include air and water pollution, solid waste management, biodiversity, ecosystem management, maintenance of biodiversity, the protection of natural resources, wildlife and endangered species. Policies concerning energy or regulation of toxic substances including pesticides and many types of industrial waste are part of the topic of environmental policy. This policy can be deliberately taken to direct and oversee human activities and thereby prevent harmful effects on the biophysical environment and natural resources, as well as to make sure that changes in the environment do not have harmful effects on humans.1


It is useful to consider that environmental policy comprises two major terms: environment and policy. Environment refers to the physical ecosystems, but can also take into consideration the social dimension (quality of life, health) and an economic dimension (resource management, biodiversity).2 Policy can be defined as a "course of action or principle adopted or proposed by a government, party, business or individual".3 Thus, environmental policy focuses on problems arising from human impact on the environment, which retroacts onto human society by having a (negative) impact on human values such as good health or the 'clean and green' environment.

Environmental issues generally addressed by environmental policy include (but are not limited to) air and water pollution, waste management, ecosystem management, biodiversity protection, the protection of natural resources, wildlife and endangered species, and the preservation of these natural resources for future generations. Relatively recently, environmental policy has also attended to the communication of environmental issues.4


The rationale for governmental involvement in the environment is market failure in the form of forces beyond the control of one person, including the free rider problem and the tragedy of the commons. An example of an externality is a factory that engages in water pollution in a river. The cost of such action is paid by society-at-large, when they must clean the water before drinking it and is external to the costs of the factory. The free rider problem is when the private marginal cost of taking action to protect the environment is greater than the private marginal benefit, but the social marginal cost is less than the social marginal benefit. The tragedy of the commons is the problem that, because no one person owns the commons, each individual has an incentive to utilize common resources as much as possible. Without governmental involvement, the commons is overused. Examples of tragedies of the common are overfishing and overgrazing.5

Instruments, problems, and issues

Environmental policy instruments are tools used by governments to implement their environmental policies. Governments may use a number of different types of instruments. For example, economic incentives and market-based instruments such as taxes and tax exemptions, tradable permits, and fees can be very effective to encourage compliance with environmental policy.6

Voluntary measures, such as bilateral agreements negotiated between the government and private firms and commitments made by firms independent of government pressure, are other instruments used in environmental policy. Another instrument is the implementation of greener public purchasing programs.7

Often, several instruments are combined in an instrument mix formulated to address a certain environmental problem. Since environmental issues often have many different aspects, several policy instruments may be needed to adequately address each one. Furthermore, instrument mixes may allow firms greater flexibility in finding ways to comply with government policy while reducing the uncertainty in the cost of doing so. However, instrument mixes must be carefully formulated so that the individual measures within them do not undermine each other or create a rigid and cost-ineffective compliance framework. Also, overlapping instruments lead to unnecessary administrative costs, making implementation of environmental policies more costly than necessary8 In order to help governments realize their environmental policy goals, the OECD Environment Directorate studies and collects data on the efficiency of the environmental instruments governments use to achieve their goals as well as their consequences for other policies.9 The site www.economicinstruments.com [1] 10 serves as a complementary database detailing countries' experience with the application of instruments for environmental policy.

The current reliance on a market based framework is controversial, however, with many prominent environmentalists arguing that a more radical, overarching, approach is needed than a set of specific initiatives, to deal coherently with the scale of the climate change challenge. For an example of the problems, energy efficiency measures may actually increase energy consumption in the absence of a cap on fossil fuel use, as people might drive more efficient cars further and they might sell better. Thus, for example, Aubrey Meyer calls for a 'framework based market' of contraction and convergence examples of which are ideas such as the recent Cap and Share and 'Sky Trust' proposals.

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are often prepared to assess and compare the impacts of various policy alternatives. Moreover, it is often assumed that if policymakers will make rational decisions based on the merits of the project. Eccleston and March report that even though policymakers often have access to reasonable accurate information political and economic factors often lead to long-term environmentally destructive decisions. Yet decision-making theory casts doubt on this premise. Irrational decisions are often reached based on unconsciousness biases, illogical assumptions and premises, and the desire to avoid ambiguity and uncertainty.11

Eccleston identifies and describe 5 of the most critical environmental policy issues facing humanity: water scarcity, food scarcity, climate change, Peak Oil, and the Population Paradox.12


The 1960s marked the beginning of modern environmental policy making. Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson's New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Administrator Ruckelshaus was confirmed by the Senate on December 2, 1970, which is the traditional date we use as the birth of the agency. Five months earlier, in July 1970, President Nixon had signed Reorganization Plan No. 3 calling for the establishment of EPA in July 1970. At the time, Environmental Policy was a bipartisan issue and the efforts of the United States of America helped spark countries around the world to create environmental policies.13 During this period, legislation was passed to regulate pollutants that go into the air, water tables, and solid waste disposal. President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970 which set the United States of America as one of the world leaders in environmental conservation.

In the European Union, the very first Environmental Action Programme was adopted by national government representatives in July 1973 during the first meeting of the Council of Environmental Ministers.14 Since then an increasingly dense network of legislation has developed, which now extends to all areas of environmental protection including air pollution control, water protection and waste policy but also nature conservation and the control of chemicals, biotechnology and other industrial risks. EU environmental policy has thus become a core area of European politics.

Overall organizations are becoming more aware of their environmental risks and performance requirements. In line with the ISO 14001 standard they are developing environmental policies suitable for their organization. This statement outlines environmental performance of the organization as well as its environmental objectives. Written by top management of the organization they document a commitment to continuous improvement and complying with legal and other requirements, such as the environmental policy objectives set by their governments.

Environmental policy studies

Given the growing need for trained environmental policy practitioners, graduate schools throughout the world have begun to offer specialized professional degrees in environmental policy studies. While there is not a standard curriculum for these programs, students typically take courses in policy analysis, environmental science, environmental law and politics, ecology, energy, and natural resource management. Graduates of these programs are usually employed by governments, international organizations, private sector, think tanks, universities, and a host of other parties.

Due to lack of standard nomenclature, institutions use varying names and designations to refer to the environmental policy degrees they award. However, these degrees typically fall in one of four broad categories: Master of Arts in Environmental Policy, Master of Science in Environmental Policy, Master of Public Administration in Environmental Policy, or PhD in Environmental Policy. Sometimes, more specific names are used to reflect the particular focus of a degree program. For example, the Monterey Institute of International Studies uses Master of Arts in International Environmental Policy (MAIEP) to emphasize the international-orientation of its curriculum.15

See also


  1. ^ McCormick, John (2001). Environmental Policy in the European Union. The European Series. Palgrave. p. 21. 
  2. ^ Bührs, Ton; Bartlett, Robert V (1991). Environmental Policy in New Zealand. The Politics of Clean and Green. Oxford University Press. p. 9. 
  3. ^ Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1995.
  4. ^ A major article outlining and analyzing the history of environmental communication policy within the European Union has recently come out in The Information Society, a journal based in the United States. See Mathur, Piyush. "Environmental Communication in the Information Society: The Blueprint from Europe," The Information Society: An International Journal, 25: 2, March 2009 , pp. 119–38. Accessible: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a909229825~db=all~jumptype=rss
  5. ^ Rushefsky, Mark E. (2002). Public Policy in the United States at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century (3rd ed.). New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. pp. 253–254. ISBN 978-0-7656-1663-0. 
  6. ^ http://www.oecd.org/about/0,3347,en_2649_34281_1_1_1_1_1,00.html http://www.oecd.org/about/0,3347,en_2649_34295_1_1_1_1_1,00.html
  7. ^ en_2649_34281_1_1_1_1_ 1,00.htmldead link
  8. ^ "Instrument Mixes for Environmental Policy" (Paris: OECD Publications, 2007) 15–16.
  9. ^ “Environmental Policies and Instruments,” http://www.oecd.org/department/0,3355,en_2649_34281_1_1_1_1_1,00.html
  10. ^ "Economic Instruments". Economic Instruments. 2011-01-26. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  11. ^ Eccleston C. and Doub P., Preparing NEPA Environmental Assessments: A Users Guide to Best Professional Practices, CRC Press Inc., 300 pages (publication date: March 2012).
  12. ^ Eccleston C. and March F., Global Environmental Policy: Principles, Concepts And Practice, CRC Press Inc. 412 pages (2010).
  13. ^ Managing the Environment, Managing Ourselves: A History of American Environmental Policy
  14. ^ Knill, C. and Liefferink, D. (2012) The establishment of EU environmental policy. In: Jordan, A.J. and C. Adelle (ed.) Environmental Policy in the European Union: Contexts, Actors and Policy Dynamics (3e). Earthscan: London and Sterling, VA.
  15. ^ Monterey Institute of International Studies. "MA in International Environmental Policy". Miis.edu. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 

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