The history of UK environmental policies charted in new British Academy report

6 Oct 2022

With only one month to go until COP27, the British Academy has today published a unique history of the UK’s environmental policies, the latest in its series of ‘policy histories’ which use historical insights to inform policy making.

Lessons from the History of UK Environmental Policy provides a structured, rigorous and objective account of the history of policies affecting the environment and includes a chronology of key environmental policy milestones in the UK from the 1960s until now. Meanwhile, four complementary essays explore specific environmental policy themes ranging from the dangers of scrapping planning regulations in pursuit of short-term political goals to how it is often the least privileged in society who bear the greatest cost of societal responses to environmental threats.

The report highlights several key lessons from history for policymakers:

  • The significance of culture and society in environmental policymaking
  • The challenge of making environmental decisions that meet diverging stakeholder interests
  • The importance of understanding the implications of short-term policies on long-term environmental protection
  • The need for policies to be made holistically and collaboratively
  • The crucial role civil society organisations can play in shaping policies.

The British Academy’s policy histories bring together a range of voices from across the SHAPE disciplines (Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts for People and the Economy) to explore different areas of public policy in the UK. The aim of the series is to use historical insights and learning from history to inform policymaking.

Lessons from the History of UK Environmental Policy follows Lessons from the History of UK Science Policy and Trade Policy History.

Dr Molly Morgan Jones, Director of Policy at the British Academy, said:

“As the climate emergency intensifies and biodiversity loss accelerates around the globe, the need to develop effective environment policies has never been more urgent. But to ensure we avoid short-term thinking and develop lasting impactful policies, we must look to the past for clues on what works and what does not. Insights from the SHAPE disciplines, from history and philosophy to geography and anthropology, are crucial to developing this understanding.

“In convening such expertise, this report provides policymakers with an opportunity to reflect on the opportunities, challenges and consequences of the UK’s environmental policies. This is particularly timely as policymakers seek to build upon the government’s commitments from COP 26 and implement its 25 Year Environment Plan and new Environment Act, while also driving growth and productivity. Contrary to the prevailing narrative, these goals are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as our policy history shows, they are compatible and achievable.”

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