Spelman scraps Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
The Coalition’s decision to abolish the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) deepens suspicion that government is not interested in independent environmental research and analysis.
When Caroline Spelman announced she was withdrawing Defra’s £1m funding, RCEP was midway through a new consultation on future research priorities. The sustainable use of phosphates and the impacts of low carbon energy generation on the environment were possible options.
What have we lost with the closure of RCEP?
- Work on the environmetnal impacts of low carbon energy generation. Using biomass has implications for food security and land use. Nuclear power raises issues of sites and radioactive waste management. Carbon capture and storage raises questions about carbon transportation and the location and safety of carbon stores. RCEP could have formed a view on whether there is an environmentally preferable mix of low carbon electricity technologies for the UK.
- A study of the sustainable use of phosphate would start with the fact that almost half of the rivers in England and Wales do not meet minimum standards.
- Research into the environmental impact of pharmaceutical products had as its starting point the bleak picture represented in a recent European Environment Agency report. No doubt challenging conclusions for industry and public policy would have emerged.
RCEP’s Adapting Institutions to Climate Change (March 2010) concluded that “society and governments are underestimating the challenge of climate change…in terms of the increased risks of both flooding and drought, and the implications for water supply and water quality; the coastline, including the risk of erosion because of sea level rise and coastal flooding; and biodiversity and nature conservation.”
Adapting to climate change “was not appreciated sufficiently widely. Nor is it being addressed with anything like sufficient urgency. Indeed, it is clear from recent events that UK infrastructure is not sufficiently well adapted even to our current climate – the floods in recent summers have exposed gaps in both planning and infrastructure resilience.”
The study echoes the TUC’s own work on adaptation to climate change, where neither services nor staff training, awareness and equipment were being adequately considered.
As ENDS report noted (July 2010), RCEP was set up 40 years ago, and “it has played a critical role in developing British – and even European – environmental policy, publishing a series of landmark reports on climate change, pollution and other issues.”
Away from the limelight of “crowdsourcing” the public for policy ideas, which it then seems to ignore, the Government is shutting down centres of excellence and influence in the most challenging areas of environmental degradation and climate change.