It’s official, environmental deterioration threatens UK quality of life

The UK Government has published its first annual report on citizens' quality of life. The report uses 150 indicators to measure quality of life, several of which point toward future deterioration of the environment as a key threat.

Quality of life counts has been published as part of the UK’s sustainable development strategy and it will be used as a benchmark from which to compare future data. About 150 indicators, including14 ‘headline’ indicators, have contributed to the report’s overall picture. Many are environmental indicators, while others are economic and social.

Despite some indicators that suggest environmental progress, the report paints a worrying picture. Environment Minister Michael Meacher acknowledged the challenges the findings represent and urged other countries to follow the UK’s example: “The UK alone cannot achieve sustainable development,” he said. “These indicators are the most far-reaching published by any country. We are encouraging the European Union to develop similar indicators, and we urge all other countries to publish their own assessments.”

On the positive side, some environmental success is evident, often the result of EU environmental legislation. Successes have included:

  • a cut in greenhouse gas emissions during this decade
  • improvements in air quality
  • reduction in river and estuary pollution

Despite these, Quality of life counts makes clear that further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will be necessary and that areas where environmental damage is increasing must be targeted. These include:

  • road traffic levels continue to rise
  • household waste has outstripped increases in recycling
  • intensive farming practices have damaged habitats, species populations and landscape features
  • households have not become more fuel efficient in the last 30 years
  • the impact of increasing travel has outweighed improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency
  • freight transport has become less fuel efficient

Focusing on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the report states that industry has made improvements in both areas. Although further gains by industry will be necessary, other sectors, particularly households and transport, will have to make significant progress if environmental degradation is to stabilise or reverse.

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