2001 retrospective – twelve months of environmental news across the UK
Helen André Presents a round-up of the top news stories from 2001
January began with over 30 areas across the country under threat of flooding. The Environment Agency warned that although there had been recent improvements in the state of the environment in England and Wales, considerable threats still remain particularly with regard to issues such as air, water and soil quality. However, in Scotland, the good news was that controls that had been put in place on sheep farming following the 1986 Chernobyl accident were being lifted.
In February, Ofwat announced that it would not stand in the way of the non-profit organisation Glas Cymru’s purchase of Welsh Water, the first such organisation given permission to bid for ownership of a water company. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) then approved the acquisition the following month. The good news continued when the retailer Marks and Spencer announced that they would be removing all polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic from all of its products and packaging, and the television pop programme the Brit Awards announced that it would be going carbon neutral.
March was a big month for renewable energy, with Prime Minister Tony Blair’s pledge in the first week of the month of an extra £100 million for renewable energy, designed to assist the UK in meeting its target of generating 10% of its energy from renewable sources by 2010. The announcement was followed only one week later with a pledge of a further £105 million for renewables from the Government and the National Lottery. Other news included the launch of the Carbon Trust, and a call by the Environment Agency for care to be taken with foot-and-mouth disease disinfectants.
The big news in April was the launch of the Climate Change Levy, and the Crown Estates announced that it had agreed to lease land for 18 new offshore wind farms. There were grim tidings as news emerged about the environmental risks associated with the disposal of thousands of slaughtered farm animals resulting from the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.
In May, environmental consultancy company Greenergy revealed that a significant proportion of UK companies surveyed were missing out on financial benefits associated with greenhouse gas reduction projects, and in the run-up to the general election, the Liberal Democrats were declared the most environmentally-friendly of the three main parties.
In June, following the Labour Party’s landslide win in the General election, the Government announced sweeping changes at the former Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which were reborn as Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department for Transport and the Local Government Regions (DTLR).
In the heat – by UK standards – of July, DIY chain B&Q asked its customers to save water , and UK companies were found to be at the top of a new socially responsible investment index
Research published in August revealed that there is an increased risk of birth defects and low birth weight for babies whose mothers live near landfill sites. DEFRA also announced that the proposed MOX plant at Sellafield could earn £216 million for the UK, according to an independent study , whilst on the renewables front, ScottishPower unveiled plans for the UK’s largest windfarm.
In September, the Government set higher targets for the country’s air pollution, with Scotland set the toughest targets, and London the most lenient. However, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone claimed that London would not be able to meet its targets, and so launched his own air quality strategy. And in Lancashire, the County Council launched the UK’s largest free home composting scheme.
October saw approval from the Government for Sellafield to begin commercial production of MOX fuel , resulting in widespread protest from environmentalists and the Irish Government. A leaked letter from the Scottish Executive revealed that the UK may be forced to export scrapped refrigerators from January 2002 onwards due to lack of infrastructure within the country to deal with ozone depleting substances . Energy Minister Brian Wilson also admitted that renewable energy is suffering under the new electricity trading arrangements (NETA).
In November, however, glad tidings revealed that the rivers of England and Wales are the cleanest they have been since before the industrial revolution, with 94% being classified as being of good or fair quality, and 96% of estuaries reaching the same standard. Beaches were also revealed to be in excellent condition, with their quality reaching an all time high.
Legendary rock band Pink Floyd released their greatest hits album and decided that emissions from it’s manufacture and distribution should be offset by four new indigenous forests in Scotland, India, Mexico and the US.
Finally, in the High Court, two environmental groups – Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE), lost their battle to prevent the opening of the Sellafield MOX plant, and a new government report revealed that 75% of local authorities were failing to monitor air pollution.
In December, it was revealed that gas ovens can raise nitrogen dioxide levels to over World Health Organisation recommended safety levels, and a new report claimed that Scotland has the potential to be self-sufficient with regards to electricity, entirely from renewable energy.