BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Monday, 26 August, 2002, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
How green is the UK?
Wind turbines, California
The UK lags behind in using renewable energy

As delegates from around the world descend on Johannesburg for the most important environmental summit in 10 years, does the UK's own record on sustainable development come up to scratch?
The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, says that Britain's record is "something to be proud of" although he acknowledges there is "a lot more still to do".

But what do green campaigners think?

Speaking for Friends of the Earth Matt Philips says there has been some progress since 1992, particularly in the UK itself on clean air, clean water and the protection of the natural environment.

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs

Sustainable development, defined by the UN
But he warns: "Perhaps more important is the UK's effect on the rest of the world.

"The UK is a massive consumer of goods and resources from abroad, especially in areas like agriculture and mining, and through the financial influence of the City. UK PLC is not having a positive influence on the rest of the world.

"One area in particular where the UK has a negative impact is illegal logging."

He says the UK is "one of the worst countries in Europe" in terms of its consumption of illegally logged wood.

Negative numbers mean the target has been exceeded
Greenpeace offer a similar verdict, contrasting positive changes within the UK, with what they say is a poor record abroad.

Executive director Stephen Tindale says: "Progress has been made in protecting biodiversity within the UK, but nothing is being done to help biodiversity lost globally."

He has praise for the Climate Change Levy, a new energy tax on businesses introduced in April this year, as "the best thing" Tony Blair's government has done.

Tindale adds: "Getting the Kyoto Treaty on reducing worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases was down to Prescott and Meacher, but this achievement has been undermined by the dirty technology [coal fired power stations] we export to the developing world."

On the whole he says the government does have some commitment to green issues but he says: "Not enough effort is being put into it, we are only creeping forward."

Logged timber
UK consumption degrades other nation's natural resources
Poor records on waste recycling and ministers rowing back on commitments to curb car use, are both cases in point.

"A huge effort is being put into making the UK the fourth largest economy on earth, but no such effort has been put into reducing its impact on the rest of the planet. It's one step forward, two steps back."

Jonathan Porritt, a veteran environmental campaigner and now the head of the government's Sustainable Development Commission, says the UK is by no means one of the world's worst offenders.

Water vole
UK species like the water vole are making a comeback
He told BBC News Online: "Compared with its peers it is doing as well as almost all of them. Perhaps only the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands have a more progressive approach.

"It would be dishonest to say that the UK is lagging behind the rest of the world on these issues, but we do have some blind spots."

These include, he says, a failure to do much more than place "a green gloss" over existing polices, and a tendency to favour "incrementalism" over large scale change.

"Over the last 10 years the environment hasn't received the level of political attention it warrants, either from Labour or Conservative governments.

Tin cans
The UK is one of Europe's worst recyclers
"It is seen by many policy wonks as being of marginal importance, and they are being caught out as a result. The were caught out particularly by the uproar over plans to leave Michael Meacher [the UK's environment minister] in the UK during the Johannesburg summit."

"It was completely ridiculous that the UK delegation would not include the one minister who knows about environmental issues."

As far as the government is concerned, he says: "The environment is much lower down the pecking order than free trade."

"My real concern is that this government is not prepared to take on big business. They have excessive enthusiasm for letting business regulate itself."

And what does this mean for the future? Porritt answers bleakly: "I'm not hugely optimistic at the moment."

The BBC's Jane O'Brien
"These houses are an award-winning development using the latest green technology"
Recycling Advisory Group's Iain Culland
"Even if people just recycle newspapers and glass jars it is significant"
Author Lucy Siegle
"Being green is getting easier"

Key stories



Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |