How sustainable is UK life? Defra has the answers

An at-a-glance Government guide designed to provide a snapshot of the UK's environmental, social and economic wellbeing tells us that things are, on the whole, getting better.

Every year, Defra publishes the guide, Sustainable development indicators in your pocket, and while the title might be a mouthful, the aim is straightforward – to map out where progress is being made and also to highlight where standards are slipping.

The guide takes a broad definition of sustainable development, so looks at issues like crime, education, health and wealth as well as more traditional environmental concerns like pollution, emissions and waste management.

The Government uses 68 indicators to gauge whether things are getting better, worse, or show no change. Several of these indicators are further broken down to answer more specific questions.

The pocket book compares the situation today with that in 1999 and since then, 50 of these have shown improvement, 32 have remained much the same and 11 have deteriorated.

Environmental areas which have, according to Whitehall, seen improvements include emissions of air pollutants, levels of recycling and ‘local environmental quality’ – an assessment of litter levels, green spaces, vandalism and the like.

Several key areas are still getting worse, however, including aviation emissions of greenhouse gases, the volume of fossil fuels used for electricity generation and urban ozone pollution.

The latest picture of the UK’s environmental, social and economic wellbeing has been published today, and for the first time includes some measures of personal wellbeing in the population.

Environment Minister Phil Woolas said: “These indicators highlight some of the challenges for our lifestyles, for business and for policy makers if we are to develop sustainably.

“They help to illustrate where we are making progress and where we may need to develop our thinking and do things differently to get improvements.

“It is important that people can see for themselves where we as a country are getting things right or where we all need to do more or do things differently – not just in combating climate change, but in reducing other environmental impacts, in worrying about how we function as a society and how people are affected.

The indicators can be viewed in full online at

David Gibbs

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