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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Environmental policy is any [course of] action deliberately taken [or not taken] to manage human activities with a view to prevent, reduce, or mitigate harmful effects on nature and natural resources, and ensuring that man-made changes to 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 primarily refers to the ecological dimension (ecosystems), but can also take account of social dimension (quality of life) and an economic dimension (resource management). [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, and the protection of natural resources, wildlife and endangered species. 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 externalities, 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]

Environmental policy instruments

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 necessary[8] 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 [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.

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 , pages 119 - 138. Accessible:
  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 978-0765616630.  
  6. ^,3347,en_2649_34281_1_1_1_1_1,00.html,3347,en_2649_34295_1_1_1_1_1,00.html
  7. ^,3347, en_2649_34281_1_1_1_1_ 1,00.html
  8. ^ "Instrument Mixes for Environmental Policy" (Paris: OECD Publications, 2007) 15-16.
  9. ^ “Environmental Policies and Instruments,”,3355,en_2649_34281_1_1_1_1_1,00.html
  10. ^

External links



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