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UK economic recovery 'poses threat to environment'

James Meikle

1st December, 2010

Any emergence from recession may erode shift towards more sustainable lifestyles, warns EU report

The hoped-for emergence of the UK from its economic crisis might erode a shift towards more sustainable lifestyles, according to an EU report published this week.

A growing population, coupled with demand for more and larger homes, is threatening the UK's security of water supplies and wildlife, said the European Environment Agency (EEA).

There is also a risk that public concern with green issues declines as more people live in towns and cities and have no 'experience of the natural world', said the assessment of the challenges facing the country. And this trend may be greatest among younger generations, it warns.

The UK analysis, provided by the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), also warns that Britain's increasing reliance on overseas manufacturing to meet consumer demand will continue to cause' "off-shoring" of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts through the consumption of products and services produced outside the UK'.

It accompanies a pan-European report, 'The European Environment: State and Outlook 2010', covering the 27 EU member states and 11 other European countries, and uses previously published figures predicting an increase of 2.5 per cent in summer average temperatures in England by 2050, more frequent and heavier rainfall in winter, more droughts in summer and increased acidification of the ocean.

The UK remains concerned about increasing car use after 20 years in which there has been little change in the real costs of motoring while public transport has become more expensive. It also says the number of passengers using UK airports has quadrupled in under 30 years.

Environment minister Caroline Spelman said: 'The UK is serious about the need to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and we're working on the first ever risk assessment so that we can plan for the challenges climate change will inevitably bring.

'Many of the issues highlighted in the report are reflected in Defra's priorities, and the natural environment white paper – which we'll be publishing in the spring – will set out how we intend to protect wildlife and resources, improve air quality, and reduce the UK's environmental impact.'

The Europe-wide assessment, made by the EEA, tells a familiar story – fears of more droughts and forest fires around the Mediterranean basin, decreasing ice in the Arctic and the Alps, more floods and storms especially in north-western Europe, and unsustainable fishing of many commercial species.

It warns that progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions is not universal – those from transport rose by a quarter between 1990 and 2008 in EU states. More intensive use of land, loss of habitats and overfishing means the EU has failed to meet targets to halt biodiversity loss. It also signals that there should be more 'green taxes' to reflect environmental costs.

'We are consuming more natural resources than is ecologically stable. This is true for both Europe and the planet as a whole,' said Jacqueline McGlade, the agency's executive director. 'Climate change is the most visible sign of instability so far, but a range of global trends suggest greater systemic risks to ecosystems in future.'

All environmental resources – biodiversity, land, carbon, rivers, the seas and air – should be considered in production, consumption and global trade decisions. 'There are no quick fixes but regulators, businesses and citizens need to work together and find innovative ways to use our resources more effectively,' said McGlade. 'The seeds for future action exist: the task ahead is to help them take root and flourish.'

This article is reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network

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