Pollution and Degradation of the Environment

Recent industrialisation and exploitation of the world’s resources are causing pollution and severe degradation of the environment

Each country is responsible for introducing its own regulations to protect the environment (, but there has been considerable international political progress in agreeing policies and monitoring progress on these issues:

●  The World Bank has supported the Black Sea Danube Basin Partnership in co-ordinating efforts to manage pollution from the 17 countries which discharge water into the Black Sea.

●  Problems with the export of ‘acid rain’ and subsequent problems led to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) agreeing an Environment Policy that identifies best practice and helps member countries to make improvements. More work is necessary on international air pollution, though, as shown for example in a Gizmodo article: All of That Pollution in Asia Turns Into Smog in the U.S

●  UN Resolution 70-1 lists 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  These include requirements to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” as Goal 14, and “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss” as Goal 15.  The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) monitors progress against all 17 goals, as described below (

There are many examples of degradation of the environment which are not being addressed successfully, though:

●  A UNESCO report on Ocean plastic pollution noted that “the presence of plastic in our ocean is continually increasing, and plastic pollution is still one of the main causes of marine species extinctionhealth problems for human beings and animals alike, and the destruction of our ecosystems”.  Plastic is cheap and convenient and politicians have not introduced sufficient regulation to reduce the problem.

●  Water companies are also insufficiently regulated.  Thames Water dumped raw sewage into rivers 5,028 times in 2021 and “Campaigners say utility firm’s investment plan to remedy situation is ‘completely inadequate’”.

●  Fracking is controversial.  This “technique for recovering gas and oil from shale rock … uses huge amounts of water, which must be transported to the site at significant environmental cost”.  But it is economically tempting: “It is thought that fracking has given energy security to the US and Canada for the next 100 years, and has presented an opportunity to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.”  That means that its use will continue to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, though, and Scientists find fracking contaminated Wyoming water.

●  An IPPR report, We are not ready: Policymaking in the age of environmental breakdown, final report, draws attention to several issues for which it says that the UK is inadequately prepared, concluding that “Environmental breakdown is creating a new, highly destabilised domain of risk”

“The consequences include financial instability, ill health and conflict. In all, environmental breakdown is creating a new, extreme normal of persistent, compounding and constantly evolving destabilisation across most areas of society, economies, politics and the environment. This has implications for all areas of policy and politics, and increases the chance of the collapse of social and economic systems at local, national and even global levels.”

●  One of the listed issues in the above report is topsoil erosion, which is receiving insufficient attention.  “Since the mid-20th Century, 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive due to erosion”.

Much more could be done, using the law, as suggested in the article Make ecocide an international crime and other legal ideas to help save the planet.  Politicians are subjected to considerable pressure from industry to lighten regulations, but they should prioritise the interests of the population and respect the international agreements they have made.  Legal arbitration services are available, if necessary ( 



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6752.htm.