​Pollution damaging English economy, public health – experts

Reuters / Russell Cheyne
Pollution in England is damaging its economy, an independent advisory group has warned, as it urged the government to rethink its attitudes to environmental wellbeing.

The Natural Capital Committee has warned that population growth will increase environmental pressures. It said a 25-year plan was needed to improve air quality and make cities more environmentally friendly.

The committee also advised creating large spaces for woodlands and wetlands to protect from extreme weather as well as improving wellbeing.

“There is now a great opportunity to improve the wellbeing and prosperity of both urban and rural populations and restore some of the natural capital that has been lost,” said the committee’s chairman, Dieter Helm.

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“This will enhance prospects for long-term sustainable growth and therefore bequeath to the next generation a set of properly maintained and enhanced natural assets.”

The report warns that air pollution can result in up to 40,000 deaths per year, particularly in areas without nearby woodland, while also warning about the impact of pollution on mental health.

However, a spokesperson from the Department of Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the government had invested millions in curbing environmental decay, and had made sustainability a key part of its economic agenda.

“Since 2010 we have helped to create over 150,000 acres of field margins, wetlands and woodlands, and woodland cover is at its highest level in 700 years,” the spokesperson said.

“Economic growth and improving the environment go hand in hand.”

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The report follows statements by Prince Charles urging major powers to sign a global pact on curbing climate change, warning that it was the “last chance” to avoid the consequences of global warming.

“[This is] an absolutely crucial opportunity, if not the last chance before we end up in an irreversible situation, for the international community to establish a new set of interlocking, coherent and ambitious frameworks governing human development, poverty, disaster risk reduction, the natural environment and climate change,” he told forestry and climate change experts at a meeting in London.

“We could, and should, see an agenda set for the coming decades that is capable of transforming the prospects for humanity by improving and nurturing the state of the planet upon which we all depend.”