United Kingdom: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology

Welcome to the United Kingdom

Comprised of the separate countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom is home to more than 64 million people living within almost 95,000 square miles. The UK also has roughly 5,000 miles of coastline, temperate forests, rolling hills, mountain ranges and low-lying wetlands.

The UK, along with the US and other British colonies, is widely credited with staring the worldwide Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Industrial production in the 18th century UK was fueled by raw materials shipped in from her various colonies.

In turn, the British exported their culture and values-system. By the middle of the 20th century, most UK colonies had gained their independence.

Environmental Issues of the United Kingdom

The UK has been a highly-populated island nation for centuries and the country’s current environmental issues are a culmination of these years of interactions between the British and their natural surroundings. These interactions have somewhat intensified since World War II as increased national wealth and globalization have demanded the production of more goods, services and infrastructure.

As a result of these increased demands, the UK ecosystem has yielded less and less over the years. For example, UK soils were considered poorly managed and “degraded” by the UK National Ecosystem Assessment in 2011.

Grazing, air pollution and the forces of climate change have significantly affected the mountainous regions of the UK, according to the UK NEA. Grazing and agricultural activities have also affected the country’s grassy lowlands.

A Resevoir in the Elan Valley Cambrian Mountains, Wales UK. Drinking water in the UK was on a serious decline until action was taken in the 1980s to improve its quality
Image credit: David Hughes / Shutterstock.com

The inland quality of UK’s freshwater supply declined significantly after the Second World War until the 1980s when the government enacted a series of policies aimed at improving freshwater quality.

On the other hand, marine and coastal habitats have declined significantly over the last 60 years. Demand for coastal housing, tourism and industry facilities has been behind this decline. Not only has the quality of these ecosystems declined, but the disappearance of coastal marshes and soft cliffs has increased the risk for further erosion and coastal flooding, according to the UK NEA.

Rising seawater temperatures and exploitation of marine resources has led to a serious loss of quality in UK marine ecosystems. Coastal fisheries are in decline and widespread trawling has significantly disrupted the coastal seabed.

Environmental Policies of the United Kingdom

As the UK society and economy have expanded over the past 60 years, so too has awareness about environmental issues and this can be seen in the number of people joining environmental organizations. For example, the National Trust had fewer than 7,000 members in 1944. In 2011, the conservation organization had around 3.5 million.

In response to this growing awareness, the UK government has enacted a number of policies aimed at a number of environmental issues, including lowering carbon emissions and water conservation.

All companies listed in the UK are now mandated to report their carbon emissions in their annual report. The idea behind this requirement, according to The Guardian, is that investors and consumers can see the carbon footprint of various corporations and make their decisions accordingly.

The UK also recently introduced higher penalties for environmental offences. Fines for medium to large companies that violated environmental laws are expected to jump from tens of thousands of pounds to hundreds of thousands. Fines of these amounts have been rare in the past and the increased amounts are expected to be a massive deterrent.

The government is also supporting the use of green technologies by offering financial incentives to companies that use renewable energy to generate heat, and enacting energy-saving methods in the workplace.

Clean Technology in the United Kingdom

According to a 2014 report from PwC, UK investment in clean technology since 2010 has focused on three main components: electricity, heat and transportation.

The report noted that clean technology investments, driven largely by solar PV and offshore wind energy industries, have exceeded projections, to the tune of over £10 billion. Investments in clean heating and transport technologies have however lagged behind investments in clean electricity.

The 23 turbines of Ovenden Moor wind farm are supplying sustainable clean, green power and have now been doing for over 15 years.
Image credit: Alastair Wallace / Shutterstock.com

PwC said in order for the country to reach its set clean technology goals for 2020, the UK must invest approximately £50 billion more.

UK clean technology innovation is heavily driven by ecoConnect, the UK’s green industry business network. The business organization holds an annual event called Cleantech Innovate that awards a £20,000 prize for the best clean technology invention.

A Clean Future for the UK?

Future carbon emissions in the UK will be affected by the larger European Union carbon market. According to PwC, recent low UK carbon prices will stagnate low-carbon investments in the near future, calling the entire carbon-pricing scheme into question.

In its 2014 report, PwC also found that policy investments in clean technology across Europe could fuel the expansion of low-carbon systems and innovation in the UK. However, the entire region is still in the throes of a slow economic recovery and near-future outcomes of all of Europe will lean heavily on economic factors.

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