The rate and scale of environmental change caused by humans is so significant that some argue we have entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. It is thus crucial to develop effective policies to address our greatest environmental challenges: climate change, preserving biodiversity, ensuring adequate supplies of water, food and energy, and more. Below, Haq discusses his new book on this topic.
Q: What led you to write this new guide?
A: Environmental policy is becoming increasingly important as society exceeds natural planetary boundaries. Few single texts currently exist that take a holistic approach to the key challenges for environmental policy. The book aims to fill the gap and provides an introduction to anyone interested in the development of post-war environmental policy.
Q: Who is it aimed at?
A: It is particularly aimed at students from diverse academic backgrounds who wish to study the subject. As well as anyone who wants a brief introduction to the key challenges for environmental policy today.
Q: Which environmental policies do you find have been most successful?
A: One good example is the UN Montréal Protocol on ozone depleting substances, which has been successful in preventing further damage to the ozone layer and the convention on long-range transboundary air pollution, which reduced acid rain.
In the UK and the United States, there have been national policies to address air and water pollution that significantly improved human well-being in once extremely polluted industrial cities. However, while conditions have improved, the problems have not gone away – we still face a number of challenges with regard to air and water pollution.
Q: What are the ingredients of an effective environmental policy?
A: Traditionally, environmental policy has had to compete with social and economic objectives. While sustainable development has provided the paradigm to demonstrate that all three are equally important, this has not always been translated into practice.
In order to effectively address environmental problems through policy, we need to balance social, economic and environmental objectives; address uncertainty, risk and the negative impacts of policies as well as the scale of the problem and the solution.
Q: What are the key barriers?
A: Lack of political will can be a barrier to implementing effective environmental policies, if they involve difficult changes with short-term costs, and there is a lack of public acceptance that such changes are necessary.
If we are to address future environmental challenges we will require more flexible and adaptive global and national governance frameworks. This will require a redefinition of wealth and prosperity, taking into account the impact of consuming limited and non-renewable resources.
Q: How does this book fit with your previous book, Environmentalism Since 1945?
A: They complement each other. Many environmental policies would not have been adopted without pressure from the green movement. Environmental pressure groups have promoted a way of speaking and thinking about the environment that was not possible or imaginable decades ago. Today, green issues are a feature of the modern world that everyone recognizes.
Yet despite many achievements, the green movement has failed to win the hearts and minds of a large part of the electorate. The urgency of reducing greenhouse gases, the slow progress made in achieving a binding international climate change agreement, the style of campaigning and the rise in climate scepticism have caused fractions within the green movement.
Thus, my previous book provides useful context for this one, as it examines the greening of politics, science, economics and culture in the post-war period, which have influenced the development of environmental policy.