UK Environment Agency Chief Cites Bhopal in Speech on Environmental Regulation

The remains of the Union Carbide Factory still stand in Bhopal

In a speech on environmental regulation to the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry earlier this month, UK Environment Agency Chief Sir James Bevan opened his delivery with a description of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, stating that “Bhopal is why I believe in regulation”.

Bhopal is why I believe in regulation. Teachers like to say that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. If you think regulation is expensive, try not doing it.

– UK Environment Agency Chief Sir James Bevan


Here are the opening remarks of Sir James’ 4th August speech, entitled ‘In Praise of Red Tape’, in full:

“Imagine a city where hundreds of thousands of people live. In the centre is a huge industrial plant which produces chemicals. One night there is an explosion in the plant. A deadly gas settles over much of the city and the sleeping people. By morning thousands are dead.

The agony doesn’t stop there: in the decades that follow, many thousands more die from the effects of the gas, or from birth deformities; hundreds of thousands more have their lives ruined; and the land and water around the plant are poisoned.

This is not fiction.

This happened, in 1984 in a place called Bhopal in India. I’ve been to Bhopal and visited the site. The chemical plant is still there, derelict and rusting away. People still live all around it, many of them the victims of the explosion or their children. The land is still poisoned and the water is still undrinkable. Nearly forty years on, no one has been held accountable. The sense of loss and injustice is visceral.

Bhopal is a textbook example of failed regulation. A hazardous industrial plant was allowed to operate in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in the world without proper checks and precautions until one day disaster struck.

Bhopal is why I believe in regulation. Teachers like to say that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. If you think regulation is expensive, try not doing it.”

In the remainder of his address, Sir James went on to discuss the importance of environmental regulation in tackling climate change, as well as how the government plans to approach regulation once Britain leaves the EU later this year. After discussing the importance of good legislation and the potential damage of over-regulation, he went on to conclude: “let us resolve to avoid wanton regulation. But let us also recognise that good regulation is not red tape: it is what gets you green growth and a blue planet.”

We are pleased to see that Bhopal has not been forgotten and hope that Sir James’ inclusion of it in his address entails that the UK government still recognises the ongoing injustice being suffered by Bhopalis on a daily basis. Environmental regulation is a global issue, and governments around the globe have a responsibility not only to the citizens of their own countries, but to all those who are affected around the world by the operations of international corporations and chemical companies.

If you would like to read Sir James’ address to the London Chamber of Commerce in full, you can do so on the government website:

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We believe Dow must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.