This chapter describes how the UK Department of the Environment (DoE) has implemented the sustainable development policies it agreed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit; it covers the Department’s work both in the UK and globally. The chapter is intended to give a flavour of how international agreements are implemented in practice. Hilary Hillier (in chapter 1) has referred to the skills and aptitudes that are needed for specialists working in the European Environment Agency. It is more difficult to define the skills needed by general policy makers at the DoE, but the chapter aims to illustrate them by outlining the type of work in which policy makers are engaged.
The process of implementing an internationally agreed convention in national action plans can be quite complex. This chapter seeks to show how it can be done by taking as a case study how the UK prepared and is implementing its sustainable development strategy to fulfil its Rio commitments. It also briefly reviews the mechanisms that are being put in place for ensuring continuing progress.
The first thing to understand is that the sustainable development strategy was largely built on existing UK environmental policy. It did not require a U-turn or a major shift in direction. Much of what is in the UK strategy and of what was agreed at Rio accords with, and takes forward, the general environmental policies that the UK and many other countries already had in place. Before the Rio conference the UK’s environmental policy had been developed and set out in This Common Inheritance published in 1990. This focused on four main areas: