UK failing on air quality, water and marine conservation, commission says

7th February 2017

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  • Biodiversity ,
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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Air


Stuart Murray

The UK must improve its implementation on EU laws covering air quality, water pollution and designation of protected marine sites, according to the European Commission.

A report from the commission summarising progress on implementing EU environmental law, says the UK has persistently breached of air quality rules, in particular for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Failure to meet the EU limits was costing UK businesses more than €28bn a year, with six million workdays lost annually due to sickness caused by air pollution.

Health conditions linked to poor air quality were costing the UK health service more than €101m a year, while air pollution was responsible annually for crop failures worth €237m a year, the report adds.

Liberal Democrat MEP and air quality campaigner Catherine Bearder said British businesses were picking up the bill for poor air quality: It’s time the government started taking proper care of its citizens by investing in clear air solutions to cut down on pollution, which will save money and lives.’

On water quality, the main pressure to surface water in the UK comes from diffuse pollution, which affects 68% of water bodies. Poor river management damages 30% of water bodies, while abstraction negatively impacts 14%, the report says. It describes UK river basin management plans as being weak on ecological status assessment and lacking effective measures to address diffuse pollution from agriculture.

However, compliance with the drinking water directive is very high, the report notes. It also says there has been an improvement in implementing regulations on bathing water since 2014, with 60% found to be of excellent quality in 2015, and only 5% judged to be poor.

Marine conservation regulation is highlighted as a weak spot, with the commission recommending that the UK completes the designation process for Natura 2000 marine sites and increases the focus on protecting species and habitats outside the terrestrial network.

In other areas, the UK was found to be a leader, with the Green Investment Bank, green public procurement practices and natural capital accounting mechanisms singled out for praise. Such innovative approaches could be shared more widely with other countries, the commission recommends.

The report is part of the commission’s environmental implementation review, which aims to identify where member states are failing to fulfil EU policy and legal requirements, and tackle the causes before problems become urgent.

Air quality is a problem in twenty three member states, with more than 130 cities across Europe affected.

The commission also found that waste prevention is a challenge for all member states, and that six countries had failed to limit the landfill of biodegradable municipal waste. Full compliance with EU waste policy by 2020 could create 400,000 jobs across member states, the report estimates.

According to the commission, full implementation of EU environmental legislation could save the bloc €50bn a year in health costs and direct costs to the environment.


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