Opportunities for health benefits in environmental policy

The living environment has a major impact on people’s health. The government strives for a healthy living environment, but there are many other goals to be considered as part of the environmental policy. In the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment (NOVI) and National Environmental Policy Plan (NMK), these other goals are often formulated in more concrete terms, i.e. with specific intermediate and final targets. As a result, there is a risk of health becoming a secondary issue. The Health Council advocates that concrete intermediate and final targets and obligations of results should also be defined for a healthy living environment. Moreover, when applying standards to limit exposure to harmful substances, the government can steer its policy more clearly based on health benefits. In practice, this is often based only on what is legally permissible. As a result, the goal of health protection could get overlooked. Finally, the Council argues for better support for local or regional authorities. They will have greater responsibilities with respect to environmental policy under the Environment and Planning Act which is expected to come into force in early 2023. The Council recommends developing a framework for risk governance, through which health can be explicitly taken into consideration on an equal footing with other environmental goals.