9 International Influential Regulations

While there are some excellent Canadian regulatory examples, like oil and gas flaring rules in Alberta (Directive 060, Upstream Petroleum Industry Flaring, Incinerating, and Venting), perhaps Canada is not the lead actor on the world stage in terms of environmental regulations.  This debate of whether we lead or are green or laggards can get quite heated.  (UBC, N.d.).

The author believes that although there are some exceptions, Canada is a follower and we have looked to other jurisdictions for inspiration.  So, the following includes a taste of two regulatory influencers.

United States of America (USA) (Federal)

The United States of America (USA) is a democratic republic that has a federal government and fifty state governments.  In the United States, air quality is regulated in a different manner than Canada.  The federal government has the authority to set the laws for air pollution. Where states have “non-attainment areas”, the states are required to enact rules that will make them comply with the Federal standards.

The Clean Air Act

The current US Clean Air Act (The Clean Air Act 42 U.S.C. §7401 et seq. (1970)) was originally established in 1970, it supplanted an earlier Clean Air Act of 1963 and the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955.  .  The official version of the Clean Air Act is available in the United States Code, (US EPA, n.d.) was updated in 1977, 1990 and again in 2021.

The 1970 version was arguably the watershed moment as it gave the federal government and the US EPA the authority to set legally enforceable air quality standards.  The legislation required that states develop compliance plans to ensure they met the national air quality standards.  Canadian rules are slightly more ambiguous on requiring provinces to have non-attainment plans.

The 1970 Clean Air Act also saw the start of the US EPA regulating auto emissions.  Today the Act also looks at ozone depleting chemicals and greenhouse gases. (US EPA, 2022.)

Toxic Release Inventory

The Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) was developed by the US EPA as a right to know initiative.  It features mandatory reporting of emissions by facilities that meet certain criteria of a given list of chemicals.

The information is then made public so they can understand what chemicals are being released locally.  (Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program | US EPA, n.d.)

United Kingdom (UK)

The United Kingdom (UK) is a democratic representative monarchy.  All its laws are made by the democratically elected parliament.  There may also be local regulations in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Perhaps modern air regulations in the UK started in 1952, when London suffered a killing smog. It was predominantly a problem of consumer coal combustion and power plant combustion during a weather inversion which caused a heavy fog.  Many thousands of people lost their lives.

In 1956, the UK Parliament introduced the UK Clean Air Act (The Health Foundation, n.d.). At the time low quality coal was used as a household heating fuel as well as for producing electricity for a post war expanding demand.  The act phased out coal and implemented cleaner fuels.

The act was updated in 1968 and then replaced in 1993 by a new Clean Air Act, 1993 (Government of UK, n.d.).

An interesting aspect is that currently a private members bill is being circulated that would bestow clean air as a right.  It is called informally Ella’s act after a child who died of asthma during a particularly bad air pollution incursion (Fuller, 2022)

The Climate Change Act

The Climate Change Act commits the UK government legally to its target of net zero emissions.  Net zero is measured as 100% of 1990 emissions (Climate Change Act, c.27, s1) .  The act was one of the first to commit a country to net zero, it uses a carbon budget approach to managing down its emissions.

UK Carbon Budget

The United Kingdom has enacted several carbon budgets that describe its legally binding greenhouse gas reductions.

In their latest Carbon Budget issues in April 2021, The UK commits to reducing emissions 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels (Gov.UK, 2021).  Net Zero (100% of 1990 levels) is still targeted for 2050 in the UK.

Section Conclusion

Both the United States and the United Kingdom have extensive environmental regulations.  Arguably their central governments have a clearer authority over environmental issues than Canada’s federal government. Despite the differences, their regulatory commitments influence Canada.  We can see a direct relationship in Canada of the National Pollutant Release Inventory to the United States Toxic Release Inventory and to the UK’s Climate Change Act commitment to Net Zero

Learning Questions

  1. Make a table of the United States, Canada’s and the UK’s climate targets for 2030 and 2050.
  2. The United States is effectively setting Canadian standards for vehicle emissions?  Why is that?


Directive 060: Upstream Petroleum Industry Flaring, Incinerating, and Venting

Fuller (2022), ‘Ella’s law’ bill seeks to establish right to clean air in UK, The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/20/ellas-law-bill-right-to-clean-air-uk-pollution-jenny-jones

Government of the United Kingdom. (2021) Press release. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-enshrines-new-target-in-law-to-slash-emissions-by-78-by-2035

The Health Foundation. (n.d.). Clean Air Act 1956. Retrieved from https://navigator.health.org.uk/theme/clean-air-act-1956#:~:text=The%20Clean%20Air%20Act%20of,of%20coal%20and%20industrial%20activities.

United Kingdom Climate Change Act 2008, C.27

United Kingdom Clean Air Act, 1993, c.11

United Kingdom Clean Air Act, 1956, c. 52

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). (2022). Climate change home page, Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/climate-change

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). (2022). Toxics release inventory home page. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program

University of British Columbia (UBC). (n.d.). Canada’s Environmental Record. Retrieved from https://www.ubcpress.ca/asset/12422/1/9780774810487.pdf


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Regulations and the Environment Copyright © 2023 by Tim Taylor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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