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Environmental principles inform legal frameworks that relate to environmental protection or sustainable development. Article 191(2) of TFEU sets out four main environmental principles that must guide policy within the scope of EU law (CBP8132). These have been influential in formulating a range of EU directives and regulatory actions, and constitute the main focus of this note. The principles listed are:

  • The precautionary principle, which allows regulatory action to be taken even if a risk has not been established with full certainty.
  • The prevention principle, which aims to prevent environmental damage; such as to protected species or to natural habitats, water and soil; rather than to react to it.
  • The rectification at source principle, which seeks to prevent pollution at its source rather than remedy its effects.
  • The polluter pays principle, which requires polluters to bear the financial cost of their actions.

 Key points in this POSTnote include:

  • EU environmental law and policy is based on four core environmental principles contained in Article 191(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU): the precautionary, prevention, rectification at source, and polluter pays principles.
  • The principles do not create direct legal rights but have been used by the courts to interpret and apply EU environmental law.
  • The precautionary principle is applied to manage risk in cases of scientific uncertainty.
  • The polluter pays principle is used to allocate responsibility for pollution costs, although attributing these costs can be complex.


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

    • Dr Aleksandra Čavoški, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham
    • Professor Andrew Jordan, University of East Anglia and the Brexit and Environment Network*
    • Professor Charlotte Burns, University of Sheffield and the Brexit and Environment Network*
    • Dr Chris Hartfield, National Farmers’ Union*
    • Dr Diane Mitchell, National Farmers’ Union*
    • Professor Elizabeth Fisher, University of Oxford
    • Professor Elizabeth Kirk, Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University*
    • Professor Eloise Scotford, University College London*
    • Professor Ian Boyd, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the University of St Andrews
    • Professor Joyce Tait, University of Edinburgh
    • Professor Maria Lee, University College London*
    • Matthew Stanton, WWF-UK
    • Professor Nick Voulvoulis, Imperial College London
    • Nigel Haigh, Institute for European Environmental Policy*
    • Paul Logan, Environment Agency*
    • Dr Peter Eckersley, Nottingham Trent University
    • Professor Richard Cowell, Cardiff University*
    • Professor Richard Macrory, UK Environmental Law Association and University College London*
    • Dr Robert Black, Natural Resource Institute, University of Greenwich*
    • Ruth Chambers, Green Alliance*
    • Professor Susan Owens, University of Cambridge*
    • Professor Tim O’Riordan, University of East Anglia*
    • Tom West, ClientEarth*
    • Dr Victoria Jenkins, Swansea University*

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing

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