Topic 4: Environmental Policy

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Topic 4: Environmental Policy


A growing issue of political concern in the United Kingdom over recent years has been environmental policy. This issue is a fairly modern phenomena and the issue first made mainstream politicians sit up and take notice in 1989 when the Green Party came from nowhere to achieve 15% in the European Elections, prompting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ‘into making some concerned noises about the environment’.1
This suggested a growing public awareness of environmental issues and in the years that followed (1990s onwards), the ‘Green Movement’, (consisting of emerging environmental political parties and pressures groups), sought to shape and influence the UK’s political agenda. As a reflection of this, the role of Environment Secretary took on an increased profile within Cabinet and the mainstream parties absorbed environmental policy into their political agendas.
The governmental body The Environment Agency ( was formed in 1996 to develop a regulatory role in this policy area, and overall environmentalism, global warming and related issues have therefore taken on a much higher profile in British politics over the past 20 years, a profile raised by increased media attention that has generated particular interest among younger voters. The development of economic globalisation has also been a factor in this issue becoming more prominent due to the growing significance of ‘global’ business interests and the subsequent negative environmental consequences of such organisation’s activities, which have often been created on an international scale.
In more recent years, high-profile initiatives such as the film made by former US Vice President Al Gore (right), entitled An Inconvenient Truth (2006), have further emphasised major areas of concern that have arisen due to the issue of global warming and its effects on the modern world. Gore’s long-standing involvement with this environmental issue indicated that even the world's most senior statesmen were focusing on dealing with the problem. A further practical reflection of how this issue has grown in significance in recent general elections in the UK is evident in the fact that green issues now take up considerable space within the election manifestos of the main political parties.
The United Nations’ Copenhagen Summit of December 2009 represented more
visible evidence of a high-profile focus on the world’s environmental problems and issues. This international event was seen as a key moment in the global response to the growing problem of
climate change, and its associated issues of emissions control and sustainability. However, this UN organised event was 30 years on from the first world climate conference that took place in Geneva in 1979, when the world was initially urged to pay more attention and do more research about the emergence of holes in the ozone layer. In subsequent years, many people have identified clearly changing weather patterns as evidence of the existence of climate change.
The problem of global warming has become particularly significant for most countries, but in Britain the fear is heightened by the country’s island status, as the prospect of serious flooding and ‘rising sea levels could make Britain look different on every side’.2
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