New report regulation helping protect against climate change

Environmental performance of regulated industries in England remains high, supporting the creation of climate resilient places, according to a new official report released today.

Some 97% of industrial sites overseen by the Environment Agency comply with environmental rules, based on a five-year moving average, providing protection to nature and communities in the face of increasing risks from climate change.

The data is revealed in the EA’s Regulating for People, Environment and Growth report (RPEG), which shows many improving trends in environmental compliance, pollution incidents, crime, and emissions.

Since 2010, emissions of greenhouse gases from sites regulated under the Environmental Permitting Regulations have decreased by 50%. Methane emissions from regulated sites also decreased by 45% during this time.

The EA also delivered over 98% compliance in the five major energy efficiency and emissions trading schemes it administers. These cover over 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions from industry, business and the public sector.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said:

As the international community prepares to discuss the climate emergency at COP26, we must acknowledge the importance of good regulation in protecting communities and nature against growing climate risks.

It is reassuring that most companies in England are playing their part by meeting their environmental obligations. Their compliance includes reducing emissions of pollutants and improving resource efficiency – and many businesses are looking beyond basic compliance, exploring how they can contribute to adapting and building England’s resilience to climate change and meeting net zero.

The RPEG report, comprising data from regulatory activities in 2020, also reveals:

  • 2020 was a challenging year. The COVID-19 pandemic affected businesses, people, the environment and the work of the Environment Agency.
  • Through changing, reviewing and revoking abstraction licences we removed the risk of the over-abstraction of more than 600 billion litres of water from the environment.
  • Over the last five years we’ve recorded an average of around 500 serious pollution incidents each year. Despite a slight declining five-year moving average trend, the number of annual incidents remains high.
  • The EA found 621 new illegal waste sites and stopped illegal waste activity at 722 sites. At the end of March 2021, 470 known illegal waste sites were still active.
  • Since 2010, emissions of air pollutants have fallen significantly (nitrogen oxides by 69%, sulphur oxides by 86%, PM10 particulates by 47%).
  • Over the past five years environmental groups, such as county wildlife and river trusts, have received over £13 million as a result of Enforcement Undertakings.

Sir James added:

The Covid restrictions that were in place during much of 2020 posed some challenges to our regulatory teams who needed to balance the benefits of on-site activities against social distancing rules. We prioritised industries which presented the highest risks to communities and nature, and also innovated to carry out more desk-based and remote auditing and monitoring.

During the pandemic we also agreed more Enforcement Undertakings as an alternative to other enforcement tactics. These are hugely effective at bringing into line activities that are having a detrimental impact on the environment, while at the same time raising important funding for environmental charities.

The full Regulating for people, the environment and growth, 2020 report is available online.

The Environment Agency’s vision of promoting green growth and a sustainable future is a key strand of its EA2025 five-year action plan

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