UK environmental standards continue to drop

UK environmental standards continue to drop
Courtesy New Civil Engineer

The UK government has come under more fire this week as it is revealed authorities have failed to ban 36 pesticides widely recognised, particularly in the EU, as highly dangerous to environmental and human health. 


This year, impACT has reported on a number of UK environmental concerns, such as reports of high-levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in London water supplies and the deliberate continued dumping of raw sewage across Britains waterways. This news only further illustrates declining environmental standards. Michael Gove’s 2018 promise to create a “new global gold standard in sustainability” after the decision to leave the EU, has been revealed to hold only rhetorical value as conditions worsen. 


Evidence over the past 2-3 years have illustrated that ministers have deliberately established lax regulations with numerous loopholes that have allowed for pervasive mistreatment of the islands environment. Reports that cabinet members and senior Conservative Party officials told “local authorities to ignore the extra sewage pollution”, alongside failures to ban the use of toxic chemicals only serves to illustrate that the “gold standard” discussed after leaving the EU, is a rhetorical facade. 


This is not a fleeting characteristic of the UK authorities. The ruling Conservative Party have often lauded the efficacy of their new policies, like the 2021 Environmental Protection Act. Described as “the most ground-breaking environmental legislation introduced in years”, a framework for clear statutory standards for biodiversity and environmental improvement, it’s cogent protectionist standards were immediately brought into question as the cabinet gave emergency approval to highly toxic chemical neonicotinoid, a “bee-killer”.


In a article published by The Guardian, the extent of the danger these chemicals pose was revealed. It was reported that of the 36 pesticides:


  • 13 are considered highly hazardous
  • 4 are highly toxic to bees 
  • 12 are classified as carcinogenic
  • 9 are endocrine disrupters and linked to infertility 
  • 8 are developmental or reproductive toxins, that also create concern for infertility 
  • 1 is classified as acutely toxic 


In recent weeks, supposedly un-biased civil servants have publicly criticised the poor standards of the current UK government. Dame Glenys Stacey, a solicitor and civil servant leading the Office for Environmental Protection, publicly stated that Conservative Party environmental standards are a “regression” from previous EU standards. Certainly, evidence over the past 3-4 years have illustrated the cabinet has prioritised reducing costs by dropping standards. Water utility companies, as illustrated by impACT in May, have benefited from this. This week in fact, the government has been accused of breaking the law in this regard. The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has concluded that Ofwat, the water regulator and DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) knew that water companies were knowingly dumping dangerous and toxic raw sewage in waterways, but did not intervene. As reported, on average, 825 times a day, untreated raw sewage was pumped into UK waterways devastating local biodiversity and creating an unsafe environment for human presence. 


Though it is clear that since the UK left the EU, environmental concerns among policy makers have dropped significantly, impACT does not wish to convey the notion that cogent environmental regulatory standards can only come from supranational political bodies. However, current standards laid out by authorities have created toothless regulatory bodies (seen by recent OEP accusations) and created inaccurate notions of what cogent policy is. If the UK is serious about combating degrading environmental standards, and the global climate crisis, the Conservative Party must drop it’s rhetorical facade and actually prioritise the British environment rather than using previous EU policies as a lynchpin to feign concern for national sovereignty and the freedoms of UK businesses. Further, politicians keen to prove that leaving the Union was beneficial must see EU protection policies as a standard they can truly improve on. 


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