In case you missed them – key stories over the Christmas break

5th January 2016

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Daniel Bicknell

Record-breaking rain, a £1 million fine for Thames Water and environmentalists recognised in new years' honours we round up the biggest news stories from the holiday period.

The Met Office has confirmed that December 2015 broke records for both rainfall and temperature. Publishing provisional statistics today, the weather organisation said last month was not only the wettest December on record but also the wettest calendar month overall since records began in 1910, while 2015 is the sixth wettest year since 1910. The UK mean temperature in December was also record-breaking at 7.9°C, 4.1°C above the long-term average. However, the mean temperature in 2015 (9.2°C) was not as high as 2014 (9.9°C).

The government announced a package of more than £40 million to rebuild and improve flood defences in the aftermath of Storm Eva, taking the investment in recovery from storms and flooding in December to nearly £200 million. The announcement came after strong criticism from environmental groups and communities affected by flooding that the government was not spending enough on funding flood prevention. Lord Krebs, chair of the adaptation sub-committee at the Committee on Climate Change, said that the government had ignored its warnings that flooding was the UK’s number one climate change-related risk. In an interview with the BBC, he said that he hoped the recent flooding would force the government to look at the issue again.

Thames Water has been ordered to pay £1 million after polluting a canal in Hertfordshire. The Environment Agency said it was the highest fine imposed on a water company it had prosecuted. The case was brought after Thames Water repeatedly polluted the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal with sewage from its Tring treatment works between July 2012 and April 2013. Thames Water pleaded guilty at Watford Magistrates’ Court in May to two offences under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 and the case was referred to St Albans Crown Court for sentencing. Yesterday the company was fined £1 million and ordered to pay £18,113 costs and a victim surcharge of £120. Judge Andrew Bright QC said the courts must now make clear that if very large organisations do not implement the environmental improvements they promise, sentences should be sufficiently severe to significantly impact their finances. Since the incident, Thames Water has spent £30,000 replacing the inlet screens at the Tring works and has significantly improved its environmental performance, according to the agency.

Environmental law firm ClientEarth has pledged to scrutinise the annual reports of carbon intensive UK and EU companies and report them to the Financial Reporting Council if they fail to disclose how the Paris agreement could affect their future operations.

More than a third (37%) of the British public believe December’s floods were caused by climate change, according to a survey by YouGov survey for WWF. However, the poll revealed little understanding of the main sources of carbon emissions, with those from buildings being particularly underestimated. Almost 20% believed that nuclear is the cheapest form of electricity per unit of energy generated per hour when it is the most expensive, WWF said.

Professor Peter John Matthews, chair of Natural Resources Wales, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to environmental management in the new years’ honours. Charles David Randell, external member of the Prudential Regulation Authority and non-executive director, at the energy and climate change department (Decc), received a CBE for services to financial stability and climate change policy. Nina Scorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association, also received a CBE for services to renewables. David Mackay, former chief government advisor at Decc and professor of engineering at Cambridge University, was knighted for services to scientific advice in government.

Several other people in the environment sector were made Officers of the Order of the British Empire, including:

  • Stephen John Ashby, former adviser on plant health at the environment department (Defra), for services to plant health;
  • David Robert Jordan, former executive director of operations at the Environment Agency, for services to the environment and international environmental protection;
  • Jennifer Jane Lonsdale, director of the Environmental Investigation Agency, for services to the environment; and
  • Professor David Sigsworth, former chair of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), for services to the environment and sustainable futures. Sigsworth retired from his role at the end of December.
  • Barbara Caroline Green, senior executive officer at Decc, meanwhile, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to the development of energy policy.

The full list of honours can be viewed here.


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