National environmental policy is governed and controlled by national environmental institutions. The Belarusian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, for example, is primarily responsible for enforcing environmental policies and ensuring the sustainability of the natural environment in Belarus. The absence of such a body would make it far more difficult to monitor and regulate environmental pollution and unsustainable development practices.
Decision makers also play a key role in determining how members of society can take collective action to address environmental concerns. In relation to air pollution, for example, decision makers determine limits and thresholds in order to protect public health.
Cooperative decisions can also be an effective way to tackle global environmental problems. In response to the depletion of the ozone layer as a result of the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), politicians from all over the world worked together to formulate the Montreal Protocol, a regulatory document imposing a worldwide ban on the use of CFCs. To date, 197 countries have ratified the protocol, and the ozone layer is expected to have recovered completely by 2050.
Policy makers are continuously faced with the conflicting points of view of the constituents they represent. Not everyone’s interests can be taken into account in equal measure. Policy makers must very often make tough choices and may be forced into various trade-offs and compromises. One of the most common conflicts of interest today is that between economic development and the protection of human health and nature. Unfortunately, short-term economic interests are very often given priority over long-term environmental sustainability. This raises the question of whether a government or group of policy makers are acting on behalf of the public, or simply acting on behalf of powerful special-interest lobbies and economic elites. Whenever the general public is prevented from having a direct influence on government policy, the long-term environmental consequences are likely to be disastrous.