Wednesday 13 February 2019

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted Countries in the World

A report from the centre-left think-tank Institute for Public Policy Research, reveals that the UK is one of the global front runners in nature depletion, but the problem is a world-wide one. The report finds that since 1950, the number of floods across the world has increased by 15 times, extreme temperature events by 20 times, and wildfires seven-fold.

Further world-wide findings show that:

Topsoil is being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes.

Since the mid-20th Century, 30% of the world's arable land has become unproductive due to erosion.

95% of the Earth's land areas could become degraded by 2050.

Global vertebrate populations have fallen by 60 per cent since the 1970s.

The report states that ‘negative human impacts on the environment go beyond climate change to encompass most other natural systems, driving a complex, dynamic process of environmental destabilisation that has reached critical levels. This destabilisation is occurring at speeds unprecedented in human history and, in some cases, over billions of years.’

The report concludes that we are suffering an age of environmental breakdown, with devastating consequences for humanity as well as nature more widely:

‘As complex natural systems become more destabilised, the consequences of this destabilisation – from extreme weather to soil infertility – will impact human systems from local to global levels, interacting with existing social and economic trends such as inequality, and compounding them. This process is already underway, damaging human health and driving forced migration and conflict around the world, and is set to accelerate as the breakdown increases.’

The consequences of environmental break-down, will as always, fall hardest on the poorest, who are most vulnerable to its effects and least responsible for the problem. It is estimated that the poorest half of the global population are responsible for around 10 per cent of yearly global greenhouse gas emissions, with half of emissions attributed to the richest 10 per cent of people. In the UK, per capita emissions of the wealthiest 10 per cent are up to five times higher than those of the bottom half.

In Britain itself (including overseas territories), the situation is amongst the worst in the world. The average population sizes of the most threatened species have decreased by two-thirds since 1970. Some 2.2 million tonnes of UK topsoil is eroded annually, and over 17% of arable land shows signs of erosion.

Nearly 85% of fertile peat topsoil in East Anglia, one of the most important areas for crop growing, has been lost since 1850, with the remainder at risk of being lost over next 30–60 years. In the case of biodiversity, one in seven species in the UK are at risk of extinction.

The UK analysis down-scales four planetary boundary indicators (climate change, biogeochemical flows, freshwater use, and land-use change) to per capita (per person) equivalents and compares these to national footprints. Two separate footprint indicators – ecological footprint and material footprint – are also included and compared to their suggested maximum sustainable levels. 

The result is seven biophysical indicators in comparison to their respective boundaries. The analysis shows that the UK exceeds five of its seven per capita sustainability boundaries, using in excess of seven or eight times its share in some cases.

All of which rather debunks the idea put about by some in the green movement that global population rises, especially in developing countries, is the cause of our planetary ills. Britain is a relatively small nation but causes a large amount of ecological destruction, much more than larger African nations, for example.

The UK led the world in industrial capitalism, and therefore putting fossil fuel emissions into the air and the discharging of other pollutants, into rivers and seas, that kick-started this devastation of our environment, before being copied by other western nations, first. We also exported this damage around world where the British Empire pillaged resources from the colonies.

Where is the urgency in the UK or any other of the first world countries to take steps to mitigate this state of affairs? Nowhere to be seen, is the only answer.      


  1. not just mitigation, alternative way of addressing our finite resources required --- an eco-socialist economic model