UK becoming ‘greener’

Waste and road transport are increasing, whilst farmland bird numbers have nearly halved in 25 years, but air and river quality are up. These results are contained in the Government’s second annual report into progress on sustainable development - Achieving a better quality of life 2001.

Among the results, the report indicates that the percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere emanating from the UK has been falling; the quality of rivers and air have shown significant signs of improvement with urban air quality the cleanest since 1993. The wildlife indicator shows a rise in woodland bird species population but no rise for farmland birds.

The report, which meets the Government commitment made in the 1999 UK Strategy to report annually, charts progress by the country as a whole towards sustainable development. It highlights the breadth of activity and the diversity of individuals and organisations working towards sustainable development, and looks forward to the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg this summer.

At a seminar held on 14 March to launch the report, Environment Minister Michael Meacher said: “Naturally the improvements in the environment, river and air quality particularly urban air quality are very pleasing. This is good news. But there are still improvements to be made…Waste and road traffic remain high. The farmland bird population still remains at an unacceptably low level”.

Wild birds are good indicators of the health of the environment due to their wide ranging habitat distribution and because they tend to be near or at the top of the food chain. Farmland birds in the UK have nearly halved since 1977, and decreased by 2 percent in 2000, after a 3% increase in 1999.

The report details air quality at sites in urban and rural areas. Urban air quality in 2000 was the best since 1993 when the series began. There were 16 days of moderate or higher air pollution on average per site in 2000, compared with 59 days in 1993.

Air pollution in the UK brings forward the deaths of between 12,000 and 24,000 people each year – a fact reiterated in the report. In August 2001, a new Air Quality Expert Group was set up to help the government tackle air pollution by examining sources and levels of pollution in the UK.

“A key test of whether progress is being made towards sustainable development is whether improvements are to be found across the three pillars of social, economic and environmental indicators,” Meacher declared. “As with the 2000 annual report, this is again shown to be the case”.

“In general, as a country, we are at the forefront in terms of delivering on Sustainable Development” he said.

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