The polluter pays principle
THE last few months has seen startling news headlines on river pollution and a momentous High Court Directive given on June 25, 2009 to save ecologically critical rivers surrounding Dhaka. Another High Court directive was given to the tannery industry to expedite its relocation to Savar, where they will be allowed to operate using Central Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) to reduce the impact of their effluents on surrounding water bodies. More and more, we see an emphasis on making the polluters accountable for the ecological damage they are causing to themselves and to their future generations. Indeed, holding the current economic drivers accountable for environmental damage is also at the heart of Bangladesh's climate change demands. However, looking for environmental responsibility as a piecemeal initiative (e.g. separate HC directives noted above) may be a beginning, but we need to think of it within a broader framework. It is time Bangladesh addresses pollution management, financing and cost recovery by rethinking the current modes of operation employed by the regulatory stakeholders in line with the opportunities presented within the full cost recovery options using polluter and user pays principles.
Background to environmental costs and the polluter pays principle (PPP)
The polluter pays principle (PPP), simply put, means that the person who is responsible for creating pollution, should be made financially responsible for the damage caused to others. The PPP shifts the burden of pollution-led suffering from the affected to those who are responsible for such damage. While most polluters have been able to pass on the costs (ecological and human health costs, often times not calculated in monetary terms) of pollution to others (and to themselves as well as we all live in a connected ecosystem), and while in practice it has been difficult to identify the polluters and the exact measure of pollution related harm caused to the affected people, if regulators are serious about sustainable development, and have serious commitment towards ecological preservation and ecological equity, the acceptability of fault-based liability should be a cornerstone of Bangladeshi environmental policy.
The PPP is not new for Bangladesh: PPP was first mentioned in the 1972 Stockholm Declaration Recommendation by the OECD Council on Guiding Principles concerning International Economic Aspects of Environmental Policies. Bangladesh is a signatory to the Rio Declaration, which clearly enunciates the PPP via Principle 16, "National authorities should endeavour to promote the internalisation of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution, with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment." The PPP is further mentioned in Agenda 21 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (Earth Summit 2002). The PPP is also the cornerstone of European Community Environmental Policy. The Indian government has embraced PPP in its 11th Five Year Plan in 2006, while Thailand adopted the PPP in 1992's Environmental Act B.E. 2535 and in its environmental conservation strategies of the 8th Economic and Social Development Plan. PPP is also the cornerstone of international environmental law covering trans-boundary pollution issues. However, recently the PPP has evolved into different strands, including the extended or strong PPP which calculates for the costs related to accidental pollution.
Consequently, the GoB has embraced the PPP in the spirit of fault-based liability in its environmental laws. The 1995 Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, explicitly says in para 7, "If it appears to the Director General that any act or omission of a person is causing or has caused, directly or indirectly, injury to the ecosystem or to a person or group of persons, the Director General may determine the compensation and direct the firstly mentioned person to pay it and in an appropriate case also direct him to take corrective measures, or may direct the person to take both the measures; and that person shall be bound to comply with the direction."
For the full version of this article please read this month's Forum, available free with The Daily Star on January 4.
Dr. Shahpar Selim has a Doctorate in Environmental Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, UK.