Implementing the Environment Act 2021 — guiding FCDO's response to new legal obligations

The Nature Facility developed a tool to help UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) staff fulfil their duty under the UK Environment Act to consider environmental principles and effects when developing policies. The tool provides a framework and actions to help staff consider the relevance of five core environmental principles in policymaking to inform policy decisions and aid record keeping.

Image
Tea field in Kenya
Tea field in Kenya. Credit: Bryon Lippincott via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Commissioning department: Energy, Climate and Environment Directorate

Background

Under the UK Environment Act 2021, the entire UK Government is required to have ‘due regard’ for the environmental principles policy statement.

This is a statement of the government’s commitment to be part of the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than the one they inherited. The statement guides UK ministers and policymakers into considering five core environmental principles in their policymaking. 

These principles are the: 

  • Integration principle - embedding environmental protection
  • Prevention principle - prevention and mitigation of environmental effects 
  • Rectification at source principle
  • Polluter pays principle
  • Precautionary principle

All five principles are internationally recognised as successful benchmarks for environmental protection. 

What did the nature facility do?

As part of FCDO’s efforts to incorporate these five principles into their policy and decision making, the Energy, Climate and Environment Directorate of the FCDO submitted a request to the Nature Facility to support the development of a tool to help FCDO staff integrate environmental issues into policymaking. 

To create the tool, the Nature Facility took generic requirements laid out by Defra, which serves as guardian of the Act, and shaped a template relevant to FCDO’s work. 

The template aims to meet the UK’s 2021 commitment that UK bilateral aid spending not only does no harm to nature but also becomes ‘nature positive’. This aligns with the international goal to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. 

The template offers a series of questions to help FCDO staff consider how each of the five environmental principles might apply to their work, what the implications are, and how to proceed. 

It takes account of typical trade-offs involved in diverse developing country contexts and seeks to ensure the officer’s response is ‘proportionate’, picking up HM Treasury’s guidance on proportionality. By also helping systematic record-keeping of new policy decisions, it can help FCDO build a centralised view of how environment has been handled in policy. 

The Energy, Climate and Environment Directorate trialled the tool internally and rolled it out to the entire FCDO on 01 November 2023 when the statutory duty came into force.

Subtype
Nature Facility case study