What are the EU’s environmental principles?
There are four internationally recognised environmental principles embedded in the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU. These are:
1) The precautionary principle: this principle triggers policy intervention in circumstances where there are reasonable grounds for concern that an activity is, or could, cause harm but where there is uncertainty about the probability of the risk and the degree of harm.
2) The polluter – pays principle: this principle stems from the commonly accepted practice that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment
3) The rectification at source principle: this principle states that environmental damage should to the extent possible be rectified at source; in other words, policy should tackle the root of the problem rather than simply tackling its consequences
4) The preventive action principle: this principle supports the need to take measures to address issues today rather than allow their consequences to fester leading to higher costs and increased risk in the future.
These principles need to continue forming the basis of Scotland’s environment policy in the future and to do that they need to be legally binding.
In November 2017, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham stated that “the four EU principles of precaution, prevention, pollution at source and ‘polluter pays’… are essential to maintaining Scotland’s environmental achievements”. We now need the Scottish Government to take the next step and commit to embedding these principles in domestic law, ensuring that Scotland remains on the same footing are other European nations.
How the EU’s environmental principles have shaped Scotland’s environment
The precautionary principle provides a clear path of action for governments and elected officials to intervene when an activity raises urgent concerns for human health or the environment, until the full cause and effect relationships are established. In Scotland, this principle has underpinned action against fracking, neonicotinoids and GM crops, among others.
The principle of polluter pays expresses the commonly accepted notion that those who produce pollution or environmental degradation should bear the costs of redressing it. This important legal obligation has helped drive up the quality of our drinking water and beaches.
The principle of preventive action requires that measures are taken to address issues today rather than allow their consequences to fester leading to higher costs and increased risk in the future. This principle is critical for tackling the impacts of climate change.
The principle of rectification of source requires that when a risk to our environment is identified, we take effective measures to tackle the real cause of the problem rather than just its consequences. For example, in practice, this means that air pollution should be tackled directly by regulating emissions from cars and other sources.
Similarly, the principle of animal sentience is an important element to our approach to animal welfare, particularly for a country that prides itself of the sustainability of our produce.