27 Environmental Policy


Policy is an interesting thing.  There are whole schools of thought about policy.  Policy is like a direction but we should always ask “is there the will to go in that direction?”.  For a simple example; a restaurant may have the familiar policy “no shoes, no shirt, no service”.  This is not a law, but their policy.  The only consequence for not wearing a shirt is that you won’t be served.

Policy’s are easily reversed or double reversed.  Take an Alberta example, there was a policy dating from the 1970s (Livingston Landowners Group, n.d.) to be no coal mining in the southern Rockies part of Alberta.  Quietly the policy was reversed in 2021, and then after much controversy and discussion the reverse was itself reversed.

Policy is probably more than aspirational, there is usually some intent to go in the direction suggested by the policy.  Sometimes policy does become law, then there can be consequences.  Many countries have a net zero by 2050 policy.  Some countries, like the United Kingdom, have created law to establish the net zero goal as having consequences if not met.

From a compliance perspective, you should follow policy, but you must follow a law.


You may also hear about strategies.  This is more of the road map to get to the goal, whether it is a policy or a legal goal.  Strategies can have many elements to them including the use of regulations.    So a climate change strategy may have a variety of elements.  In the United Kingdom they have a climate change strategy including one that focuses on the international markets.  Their international markets strategy includes five broad areas (UK Export Finance, 2021):

  • Clean growth and climate adaptation
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Understanding and mitigating climate financial risks
  • Transparency and disclosure
  • International leadership

It is always a good idea to have a strategy to go with a policy.


A framework, is well, mostly like a strategy.  Perhaps it is just another term for a plan?  An example is Canada’s Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (Canada, 2022).  This is authored nominally by the CCME, and will have had extensive direct input from the provinces and federal governments.  But is a framework legal binding.  Is the Pan-Canadian Framework legal binding?  To the later, the answer is no.  But elements of it might be as they are adapted into new or revised legislation.

However, with a word like framework, you need to ensure the context.  Another framework example is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  This framework convention is much closer to a treaty than a strategy.  There are consequences for not following the convention.


A standard is different from a policy as standards can be very technical.  Sometimes standards can become so influential or seem so logical, that we think it is a law.  It is important to note that like a policy, standards don’t have regulatory weight unless referenced in a regulation, rule or act.

This relationship to law is very similar to CSA standards that are available for legislators to incorporate in laws or regulations.  An example of a standard is the Canadian Ambient Air Quality Standards (CAAQS). These are Canada’s air quality standards set by the CCME and includes a standard for ground level ozone, SO2, NO2 and PM 2.5.  The standards are agreed by the federal and provincial governments, but do not hold the weight of law unless a law references them.


A guideline is, well, maybe it sounds like a standard.  It even sounds like it might be a bit voluntary.    The AER when it was called the EUB had a set of regulations called guidelines.  They were legal enforced.  Nothing voluntary about it.  They later changed the name to Directives.

But other environmental guidelines include the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.  This is a guideline for Canada’s drinking water guideline.  It is not a regulation and does not apply to all Canadians.  (Canada, n.d.).  It was developed by Health Canada, a federal department, in consultation with the provinces and territories.  It is only law if a province or territory enacts enabling legislation for using the criteria.  Water quality for Canadians will depend on where you live.  Clearly the guidelines for Canadian drinking water are not a regulation.

Canada and Australia are the only two Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries that do not have national legislation mandating water quality (Dunn et al., 2014).

Section Conclusion

The point of this brief section is that there are many things that sound like a regulation, but are not.  They all have importance and may actually be referenced in legislation.  So it is important to be aware of their context.  Is policy important?  Yes.  Is it the law?  No.

Learning Questions

  1. Consider the difficulties to make each of these a Canadian regulation?
  2. Is it reasonable to have different standards across the country?


Canada. (2022). Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality – Summary Table. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/reports-publications/water-quality/guidelines-canadian-drinking-water-quality-summary-table.html

Canada. (2022). Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/weather/climatechange/pan-canadian-framework.html

CCME. (n.d.). Canada’s Air. Retrieved from https://ccme.ca/en/air-quality-report#slide-7

Dunn G, Bakker K, Harris L. (2014). Drinking Water Quality Guidelines across Canadian Provinces and Territories: Jurisdictional Variation in the Context of Decentralized Water Governance. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2014; 11(5):4634-4651. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph110504634

Livingston Landowners Group. (n.d..) Coal Mining Threat. Retrieved from https://www.livingstonelandowners.net/coal-mining

United Kingdom (UK). (2021) Climate Change Strategy 2021- 2024. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1019141/UKEF_Climate_Change_Strategy_2021.pdf



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