Before we consider international environmental law and climate change we need to consider domestic legislation, as it is within the sovereign states that international law is put into practice. This reflects the environmentalists’ maxim, ‘think globally, act locally’.
United Kingdom legislative control over the impacts of mans’ activity on the environment is not new. As long ago as the reign of Charles II the main concern was the production of smoke from the burning of ‘sea coal. Almost all areas of trade and industry were subject to very detailed legislative controls at that time, although some were governed by ‘self-regulation’ in the form of guilds, who regulated both supply and methods of production. However, the measures implemented were mostly ineffective because then, as now, the specifying of legal duties and standards without providing any appropriate enforcement merely indicated good intentions but were of little practical effect.
The next stage was prompted by the Industrial Revolution with the urbanization of society and its profound effects on the environment. Local industrialists used the Adam Smith model to maximize their economic benefit, but this was to the detriment of the local environment with the operation of ‘Gresham’s Law’ that is, the bad drives out the good.
Those industrialists who were concerned for either the health of their employees or the local environment faced higher costs than their competitors. The result was the need for increasingly comprehensive statutory controls on the discharge of pollutants into various receiving media.
Domestic legislation, which is not new, started as early as the period of Charles II, when trade and coal industry were subject to detailed legislative controls. However, the measures implemented then were largely not effective and practical due to inappropriate enforcement. Another stage involves the Industrial Revolution and urbanization of society, when statutory controls were required to help those industrialists caring for their employees or the local environment.