Demographic trends, consumption patterns threaten UK environment

Feb 24, 2011

UCL researchers have contributed to the Royal Commission report on Environmental Pollution, which calls for a step-change in efforts to reduce consumption and waste generation by individuals and households to protect the UK environment.

The report by the Commission, whose members include Professors Maria Lee and Joanne Scott (UCL Laws) asserts that a focus on total population ignores where people live and work, and that regional development policy and the planning system are potentially much more effective ways of protecting the environment.

As people have become steadily more affluent, has tended to increase substantially. National income has more than doubled in the last forty years, while the population has grown by only ten per cent.

In particular, the demand for new housing and related development as a result of demographic change will increasingly come up against environmental constraints in some parts of the country. The constraints can be managed but at a significant economic and environmental cost, say the authors. The government should compare these costs with the cost of enhanced incentives to encourage development in areas facing fewer constraints.

Professor Joanne Scott said: “We’ve identified a real need for a more open and rational discussion about demographic change in the UK, and in particular about the environmental impacts of demographic change. We hope our study will provide a starting point for this discussion. Government has not given adequate attention to the implications of demographic change for the environment. Unless the issues are addressed urgently there is a substantial risk of costly problems emerging in the next few decades.”

Professor Maria Lee added: “It is not primarily the size of the population that should be taken into account when considering the environmental impact of demographic change in the UK. More important are factors such as household size, the age structure of the population and where people live. The environmental impact of the population depends to a much greater extent on the amount people consume rather that the number of people – there needs to be an urgent step-change in Government’s efforts to increase resource use efficiency to decouple consumption from environmental impacts.”

Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones (UCL Bartlett School of Planning) was one of the contributors to the report, which concludes that, given there is little government can do to have any real effect on the size of the over the next 40 years, their focus should instead be on improving resource use and influencing consumption patterns in order to reduce environmental impacts.

Explore further: NOAA: Warm oceans cause concern of coral bleaching (Update)

Related Stories

Solo living is a potential environmental time bomb

Aug 03, 2006

One-person households are the biggest consumers of land, energy and household appliances in England and Wales, with men between the ages of 35 and 45 being the worst offenders, according to UCL (University College London) ...

Family planning a major environmental impact

Jul 31, 2009

Some people who are serious about wanting to reduce their "carbon footprint" on the Earth have one choice available to them that may yield a large long-term benefit - have one less child.

Environmental exodus

Nov 26, 2007

Climate change is the largest environmental change expected this century. It is likely to intensify droughts, storms and floods, which will undoubtedly lead to environmental migrations and potential conflicts in the areas ...

Ecological impact of African cities

Dec 02, 2008

African cities are growing faster than anywhere else in the world. This is having a major impact, but few ecologists are studying the urban environment and effect of cities on rural areas. One of the most important ecological ...

Recommended for you

EPA chief: Climate plan on track despite mercury ruling

3 hours ago

A Supreme Court ruling that undermined a federal rule targeting mercury pollution will not affect the Obama administration's plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions to slow the effects of global warming, the head of the Environmental ...

Rubber expansion threatens biodiversity and livelihoods

11 hours ago

Increasing amounts of environmentally valuable and protected land are being cleared for rubber plantations that are economically unsustainable, new research suggests. More widespread monitoring is vital to ...

Timber and construction, a well-matched couple

11 hours ago

The IT 781-13 group (UPV/EHU) has for the last ten years been conducting research into building structures and materials (concrete, steel and timber). According to its latest research, timber is a very light, tough material ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.