New statistical report on UK environment

The first in a new series of statistical reports on the UK environment was published by the Department of the Environment (DoE) on 14 October. But it lacks a promised section on the impacts of business on the environment.1

The report was promised by the 1990 White Paper on the environment. Its purpose is to bring together in one volume statistics which until now have been published in a disparate array of sources. Readability and comprehensiveness rather than novel insights are therefore on offer.

Most of the data in the report are published in the DoE's annual digest of environmental statistics and the parallel series on energy and agriculture, in other official series such as Pollution Papers and Food Surveillance Papers, in the annual reports of regulatory bodies such as the National Rivers Authority and the Drinking Water Inspectorate or the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, and in the periodic reports of the Government's various air pollution advisory groups.

The report acknowledges that "much further work needs to be done before a comprehensive, accurate assessment" of the state of the UK environment and the pressures acting upon it can be produced.

One of the data gaps is evident in a chapter on pressures on the environment. This collects in a helpful form the available statistics on trends in agriculture, energy and transport and their environmental impacts.

But several other features promised in the White Paper are missing. The chapter was to have included data on trends in industrial and minerals output and the production of environmentally important materials, as well as statistics on industrial accidents, enforcement, and business attitudes to the environment. No explanation for their absence is given.

The only section which contains previously unpublished material of any note deals with expenditures on environmental protection. The figures are imprecise and indicative only. They show that spending totalled £14 billion in 1990/1, of which capital expenditure amounted to an estimated £4.9 billion and operating costs to £9.1 billion.

About £8.8 billion (61%) of the total was invested in pollution abatement, of which £5.9 billion was spent by businesses and the remainder by the public sector. An estimated £3.2 billion was spent on water quality, £2.6 billion on waste management, £2.3 billion on air pollution control, £530 million on noise abatement and compensation, and £240 million on land reclamation and clean-up.

The other major components of the £14 billion bill were management of natural resources (£3.4 billion) - notably water resource management, flood defence and fisheries - and improvement of amenities such as street cleaning and maintenance of open spaces (£1.2 billion).

Over the summer, official reports on the Welsh2 and Scottish3 environment were published separately.2 Both are less lavishly produced and less comprehensive, but will appeal to those who like detailed statistical tables.

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