The best environmental laws around the world: Are they working?

I am a little late writing on this subject since a list of environmental laws came out at the beginning of 2019 and we are already in 2020; but it is still relevant.

Protecting our planet and the natural resources in it has become a goal and life choice for a lot of individuals. Every day, more people make their contribution to the environment by avoiding single-use plastic and replacing it for alternatives like reusable shopping bags, using metal/glass straws or avoiding straws all together, or reducing their meat intake. At the same time, people are asking companies and local governments to address the consequences of climate change. People taking action to protect the planet is inspiring, but it is much better when the government helps by implementing environmental policies too.

As climate change and pollution becomes more prevalent in every day conversations, governments are passing new laws to protect the planet. According to a United Nations report from January 2019, 176 countries have environmental laws. Some are more stringent than others, but they all try to protect the natural resources to a certain extent.

Single-use plastic bans

These are becoming quite common. France, New Delhi, Peru, Jamaica, Taiwan, Morocco, Kenya and many more are in the list of countries that have banned single-use plastic in some form. In the European Union there is a ban that aims to eliminate 10 single-use plastic items which includes straws, starting in 2021. Kenya’s ban on plastic bags is one of the strictest environmental laws; it can cost up to $38,000 in fines or 4 years in prison for manufacturing, selling or carrying a plastic bag.

Car-free zones or days

A few small islands in Croatia and several towns in Switzerland are car-free zones. Other towns and villages have designated special car-free days to reduce the amount of automobile traffic and therefore, reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. Some other cities have found that such bans can reduce particulate matter like in Beijing, China where cars are banned once a week.

The planet has its own rights

In 2010, Bolivia created the Law of Rights of Mother Earth which granted legal rights to the planet. The law gives the planet the same legal rights as to any other individual.

Norway’s zero deforestation law

There are around 3 trillion trees on Earth today; but deforestation continues happening at alarming rates. In 2016, Norway adopted its zero deforestation law which prohibits the country from importing foods or materials linked to deforestation. The government is also prohibited from granting contracts to companies involved in deforestation. It is the first country to pass a law of this nature. Norway also donated $500 million in 2018 to prevent deforestation in Norway as wells as Indonesia and Brazil.

Protecting the bees

Bees are the most important pollinators of food crops. Some pesticides are harmful to bees and even some birds. European countries such as France, have banned up to 5 different types of pesticides that are believed to harm bees from being used in either outdoor fields or greenhouses.

Reusing old items in Sweden

Sweden is encouraging its citizens to repair and reuse items instead of tossing them out with a tax incentive that halves the tax of labor for repairs.

No-fishing zones

Overfishing can have adverse effects on marine biodiversity and completely disrupt the food chain. Some countries have a closed season for certain species to allow them to repopulate. Taking a step further is the island of Palau which created a non-fishing zone in 2014 that is roughly 630,000 km2. The island also created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 and is also set to ban non-biodegradable sunscreens this year to protect the coral reefs.

Reducing food waste

Food that gets thrown out is a big problem. To lower the amount of food waste in France, the government implemented a law in 2016 that requires supermarkets to donate unsold food to those who need it; and if they don’t, they face a fine of €3,750. In 2018, Austin TX implemented an ordinance that prevents restaurants from disposing food waste in landfills. The restaurants are encouraged to donate unconsumed food, send scraps to farms or compost.

There are also apps that allow you to get food at discounted prices at the end of the day so that the food that restaurants expect not to sell does not go to waste.

World’s largest cap-and-trade policy

Cap-and-trade policies put an upper limit on the amount of allowed carbon emissions. China implemented a giant cap-and-trade program in 2017 as a strategy to tackle the country’s pollution problem. It affects companies that emit at least 26,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

It is encouraging to see these laws and many others passed in virtually every country in the planet. However, the same report by the United Nations mentioned above also points out that we do not need new regulations to address climate change; we -or the governments- just need to ensure that countries comply with the regulations that already exist.

Although many regulations are dutifully enforced, there are still alarming rates of deforestation, loss of biodiversity and government officials denying climate change. According to the U.N. report, there is a perception among policy makers that some of the environmental laws will impede a country’s development. Countries tend to favor short-term economic development and overlook how environmental policies contribute to a sustainable development in the long run.

Following environmental laws does not only help protect the planet but also increases trust in the government, which attracts investment and reduces corruption.

Now that we are starting the new year and everybody is talking about resolutions, let’s do more for our planet one change and one person at a time. There is so much each one of us can do.


Business Insider, PS Magazine

Featured image: Britannica

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