Skip to main content

Environmental principles: putting nature at the heart of our policy making

A sunrise coming up over a lush green field.

Environmental principles — how does it fit into the vision for a Modern Civil Service? A Modern Civil Service is about being skilled, innovative and ambitious – and equipped for the future.  The environmental principles duty is an excellent example of an ambitious Civil Service working together to leave the environment in a better state for future generations. 

Almost everyone has heard of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) which came into force on the 5 April 2011, 13 years ago. Equality must be considered when developing policy and delivering for the public. The Environmental Principles Duty which came into force on November 1st 2023, similarly requires us to consider the environment when developing policy.  

Environmental principles duty – what’s it all about? 

Having witnessed the persistent trend in the decline of nature and listened to the communities we serve, we have delivered a system that places environmental considerations at the heart of policymaking across government. To make this happen the environmental principles were introduced as part of Environment Act 2021. As a legal duty, Ministers of the Crown must have due regard to the environmental principles policy statement when making policy. 

  1. Integration:  policy making across government should look for opportunities to embed environmental protection and/or enhancement.   
  2. Prevention:  policy should aim to prevent environmental harm.
  3. Rectification at source: environmental damage should, as a priority, be addressed at its origin to avoid the need to remedy its effects later. 
  4. Polluter pays: where possible, the cost of pollution should be borne by those causing it. 
  5. Precautionary:  where there are threats of environmental harm, a lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent it. 

The principles are designed to guide policymakers towards opportunities to prevent environmental damage and enhance the environment. These are internationally recognised as successful benchmarks for environmental protection and enhancement. 

How are we supporting you?   

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are at the forefront of improving protection for the environment and are leading work to make all those potentially affected by the new duty aware of its requirement and the action that they need to take. DEFRA is firmly in delivery mode and has already done a lot of work to support government departments. For example, we have: 

  • created an environmental principles “toolkit” of resources which includes training, advice notes, PowerPoint presentations, posters and model articles
  • established a cross government champions forum giving Civil Servants the opportunity to share best practice and talk through challenges to delivery 
  • launched the environmental principles training module on CSL which is aimed at policy makers from AO to directors.  The 15-minute module provides an explanation of the environmental principles policy statement, outlines who is responsible for implementing the legal duty and how it should be applied
  • delivered a series of environmental principles support sessions hosted by the environmental principles policy team
  • produced a short introductory video explaining the principles 

A green field with the sunrise coming up.

What’s on the horizon? 

Policymakers across government are asked to consider environmental effects of policies, and then proportionately apply five environmental principles:

  • Civil Service Live The environmental principles policy team and your departmental representatives will be attending Civil Service Live in London on the 3rd and 4th of July.  We invite Civil Servants to visit the stand to not only hear about the environmental principles but to share their experience of how the duty is being applied to policy making in their department. Also, this will be an opportunity to ask questions and obtain guidance and additional support 
  • Monitoring and evaluation DEFRA are undertaking a review of cross-government implementation over the next 15 months to learn from and develop our approach.  This will build on the current review by the Office for Environmental Protection.

What should I do now? 


Sharing and comments

Share this page

Leave a comment

We only ask for your email address so we know you're a real person

By submitting a comment you understand it may be published on this public website. Please read our privacy notice to see how the GOV.UK blogging platform handles your information.