The Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) has become an important component of environmental policy at both national and international level since its adoption by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1972 as one of the guiding principles concerning international aspects of environmental policies. The principle is recognised worldwide and is referred to in national legislation as well as in many regional and international declarations and agreements.
It is a principle which requires that the costs of pollution be borne by those who cause it. In its original emergence, the PPP aims at determining how the costs of pollution prevention and control must be allocated and that the polluter must pay.
Pollution occurs when pollutants contaminate the natural surroundings, bringing about changes that adversely affect the normal lifestyle as it disturbs the ecosystem and the balance in the environment. Pollution can either have a point or non point source of occurrence, with the point sources being easy to identify, monitor and control, unlike the non-point sources which are hard to control.
With modernisation and advancements in the lifestyles, pollution is on the rise, resulting in global warming and emergence of diseases. Streams full of toxic chemicals from industrial processes, rivers overloaded with nutrients from farms, trash blowing away from landfills, city skies covered in smog are some common forms of contamination. These result in pollution of water, soil and air, killing of plants and animals and accumulation of toxic chemicals and chronic respiratory diseases and lung cancer due to long-term exposure to air pollution.
It is therefore imperative that countries devise mechanisms to deal with pollution. Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, outlines the need for national authorities 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.
Effectively, PPP allocates costs of pollution prevention and control measures to encourage rational use of scarce environmental resources by ensuring that the polluter bears the expense of carrying out the measures decided by public authorities to ensure acceptable state of the environment.
PPP must be understood as an overarching principle of environmental responsibility, meaning, it must cover, pollution prevention and control measures; liability, say clean up costs of the damage and pollution at source.
It must extend towards control of product impacts during the whole life cycle which implies extended producer responsibility. The preventive function of the PPP assumes that the polluter will reduce pollution as soon as the costs are higher than the benefits anticipated from continuing pollution, hence polluters opting to invest in appropriate risk management measures. PPP also has a curative function as the polluter has to bear the clean-up costs for the damage that has already occurred.
While the PPP is a feasible option for consideration, its success depends on the ability to contextualise who a polluter is, and the choice of instruments for implementing the principle. In defining a polluter, it is important to account for all players, their roles and the process, which include those involved in the polluting activity, the product that caused the pollution, producer or product manufacturer and the consumer. With respect to choice of instruments, there are a broad range, which in principle, are classified into three main categories of command and control law, economic instruments and voluntary approaches provided by soft law.
While the command and control law is important in implementing the preventive aspects of PPP such as licensing procedures, prohibitions, emission limit values and administrative orders and sanctions, the market based instruments improve internalisation of environmental costs and focuses on subsidies, certificates, tax alleviations and liability rules. Soft laws on the other hand focus on voluntary agreements, environmental management systems and labelling.
In conclusion, as the country debates to adopt PPP, clarity on choice of instruments and who constitutes a polluter, is important. Further, policy and regulatory frameworks have to be put in place.