United Kingdom: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology

This article was updated on the 16th May 2018.

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 66.5 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 Reservoir 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

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.

In addition to this, there has been a recent focus on saving endangered species in the UK. Beloved creatures, such as the hedgehog, have declined from 36 million to only 1 million in the last 70 years. Other animals like the red squirrel and the tortoiseshell butterfly have become increasingly rare due to destruction of habitat and the introduction of non-native predators.

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 2017, the conservation organization had around 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.

Since May 2018, there is now 8,879 wind turbines across the UK with a total installed capacity of over 19.2 gigawatts. This is 12,097 megawatts of onshore capacity and 7,114 megawatts of offshore capacity.

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. The most recent event was held in London in March 2018 with RAB-Microfluidics winning the Best Pitch prize at the showcase event.

A Clean Future for the UK?

The UK is currently in the midst of ‘Brexit’ and it is believed that this will have major consequences for environmental law due to the fact that EU law is integrated tightly into the UK’s. However, it is believed that most of the environmental policies introduced within the 4 decades of being in the EU will remain. It will now be up to the UK government to implement stricter environmental laws in order to meet the commitments that have been promised to the public.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Brett Smith

Written by

Brett Smith

Brett Smith is an American freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Buffalo State College and has 8 years of experience working in a professional laboratory.


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