Azara Blog: Environment Agency report on the UK environment

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Date published: 2005/06/09

The BBC says:

Millions of people in England and Wales are being seriously affected by pollution and global warming, the Environment Agency says.

A major report by the agency praises air and water quality improvements but says we must plan for climate change.

The "green health check" says flooding and extreme weather will be among Britain's biggest problems.

Called A Better Place?, the "state of the nations" report updates an assessment last made five years ago.

It details areas where environmental markers are getting better, such as the improvement in air quality and the reduction in waste from households.

But it also highlights negative trends, such as the amount of traffic pollution now experienced in many urban centres.

Overall, the Environment Agency says real progress is being made, but adds that the "report card" is undeniably mixed and on some markers a lot of work still needs to be done.

Issues relating to climate change, wildlife and flood risk are flagged as areas where the greatest ground has to be made up, and where future policy action should be concentrated.
Overall, only the quality of water is unequivocally classed as "better".

England's and Wales' rivers and bathing waters are said now to be the cleanest on record.

Eighty percent of bathing waters meet the toughest EU standards, compared with 45% in 2000.

And pesticide levels in rivers fell by 23% in 2003, compared with the mean for 1998-2002.

Other markers, though, have at best qualified ratings.

Air quality, for example, is rated "overall, much better" but many towns and cities suffer from traffic pollution, the agency says, and industrial emissions of nitrogen oxide have increased by 5% since 2000 as a result of an increase in coal-fired electricity generation.

Wildlife is rated "slightly better but still poor".

The agency says many habitats are improving, but significant numbers of plants, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fish and invertebrates remain under threat.

Consumption of resources and waste creation get a qualified "slightly better". Despite strong economic growth, the amount of raw materials being used has been maintained close to 2000 levels.

The total tonnage of domestic rubbish in England and Wales fell for the first time in 2003/04.

At the same time, recycling reached its highest level to date, with on average 17% of the domestic bin being put to new use.

It still takes 75kg of raw materials to make a mobile phone, however, and people are using more water despite signs climate change will further squeeze this precarious resource.

On climate change and flood risk, the picture is described as "worse".

The impacts of climate change are becoming more real, the agency says, but while the Kyoto target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5% by 2012 will be met, the more challenging target to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20% by 2010 will not.

In large part this is because of the growth in road traffic, which increased by 7% between 2000 and 2004.

By 2002, vehicles accounted for a quarter of CO2 emissions in the UK.

And on flooding, the agency says the number of people at risk is going to increase, not least because of the predicted effects of a warmer, wetter climate.

A useful compendium, although one has to take anything any government agency says with a pinch of salt because of its own vested interest in the subject (in terms of both budget, and whether it is considered to be doing a good job).

The claim that "the amount of raw materials being used has been maintained close to 2000 levels" is almost certainly false. It might be true if you consider raw materials imported into Britain, but it is probably not true if you consider finished products imported into Britain which involves the consumption of raw materials somewhere else on the planet on behalf of the British. Similarly, the amount of emissions in the UK is not the same as the amount of emissions which have occurred on behalf of the UK. The UK is not an economic island.

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