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We are an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development
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Legislative leadership on environmental issues

01 November 2022

Environmental issues are becoming increasingly hard to ignore. More extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels and widespread pollution complicate everyday lives of millions of people around the world, but formal environmental action lags behind what scientists often deem necessary to stop the pace of environmental decline. This raises concerns that the longer we wait to take formal environmental action, the more likely we are to find ourselves in crisis conditions that require swift environmental action at the expense of democratic governance. There are good reasons to worry as research indicates that ‘authoritarian environmentalism’ does not lead to optimal policy outcomes or problem-free implementation.

Legislatures play an important role in policymaking: they represent the public interest, hold governments to account and scrutinise legislation to ensure better policy outcomes that are based on consent rather than compliance. The paper draws on data available on single-use plastic (SUP) bans in 32 countries. It focuses on the following three indicators: a) whether a country has a legally binding SUP ban; if it does, b) what scope it has; and, c) how it was enacted. Data on these indicators was collected between February and April 2022 from publicly available sources, including government websites and legal repositories. Case studies of Barbados, Kenya and Thailand complement this data and illustrate the different levels of legislative involvement in enacting SUP bans and their outcomes.


  • There is little variation in the uptake of legally binding SUP bans across different regime types.
  • Electoral and closed autocracies tend to ban fewer SUPs than liberal democracies, but they are more ambitious on scope of banned activities.
  • Fines are by far the most popular penalty for contravening SUP bans across all regime types.
  • Electoral democracies and electoral and closed autocracies prefer a regulatory as opposed to legislative route for enacting their SUP bans.
  • SUP bans enacted through a legislative process are often more robust and sustainable regardless of the level of legislative scrutiny.


  • Inclusion. More opportunities for stakeholder consultations, that include legislators and not just government representatives, are required to co-create solutions to environmental issues.
  • Training. MPs interested in environmental issues should be identified and trained in leadership skills.
  • Advocacy. Structural and legal provisions designed to keep legislatures weak should be identified and changed.
  • Investment. Public awareness and education campaigns should be supported in order to create public pressure and protect legislators from industry interests.
  • Democracy. Provision of environmental support and funding should go hand in hand with upholding legislative processes.

This is a report from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with DLP. Read the full report on the WFD website.

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