Open letter: A call for strong environmental principles
Dear Secretary of State, George Eustice
We’re writing to ask you to make the environmental principles stronger, not weaker.
You promised that overhauling these environmental principles would “put them at the heart of government” and make sure the environment was not just an afterthought. But we think you have done the opposite.
Today*, as the consultation on the draft policy statement on environmental principles closes, we would like to remind you that millions of us care about pollution, mass extinction, and climate change. And while we’re not legal experts, we know how important the environmental principles have been in securing change that matters to us on these things. So while you haven’t made this consultation easy to reply to, we wanted to underline the benefits these principles have provided.
Making sure that polluters pay for the damage they do to our environment has resulted in some significant advances over the years – including laws requiring that companies recycle more packaging. But we’re still facing a plastics pollution crisis that can only be reversed if we prevent further production of polluting materials – by slashing the amount of plastic we use.
When making decisions about everything from keeping pollinators healthy to keeping consumers safe from risky food, for years our government has tried to protect our health and environment from unnecessary risk by taking a precautionary approach.
These approaches – the polluter pays, prevention and precaution – are three of the key environmental principles that have been central to environmental progress in recent years. We want to see them maintained and improved.
But taken together, the Environment Bill and this proposed Environmental Principles Policy Statement mean that government will be able to ignore the environment more easily, dismiss damage more readily and ignore opportunities more often than ever before.
- Make it a requirement that all parts of future governments, nationally and locally, must put the environment at the centre of their thinking. It isn’t enough for ministers to simply read this policy statement.
- Re-write this policy statement document so it doesn’t present these principles as a burden, but as important ways of thinking that protect the environment, and a golden opportunity for other government departments to help meet this climate crisis.
- Deliver your promise to make environmental protections, and the way the UK considers its environmental principles, stronger, not weaker.
Our environmental concerns are shared by over half a million people, who have signed recent Friends of the Earth petitions calling for government action to prevent mass extinction, keep our pollinators safe, and end plastic pollution. But none of these will be achievable unless the environment really is at the heart of government thinking. It will be more vital than ever before to put these principles front and centre if we’re going to meet the huge challenge of cleaning up our planet and preventing catastrophic climate change.
Hugh Knowles and Miriam Turner
Co-CEOs, Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and N.Ireland
*This letter was sent on 2 June 2021, the day the government consultation on the environmental principles closes.