Environment: The EU and the South West

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The European Union has developed into one of the most important environmental actors in the world. EU countries have developed the biggest programmme of international environmental legislation in history and have played a vital role in the global leader against climate change.

The UK is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the EU’s push to promote environmentally friendly policies. Dubbed the 'dirty man of Europe' in the 1970s and 1980s, the UK now has substantially cleaner air, rivers and beaches, and it has become a global leader in green and renewable technologies.

Here are a few key facts:

  • As an EU member, Britain is better placed to respond to the threat of climate change.

  • Britain has cleaner air, rivers and beaches thanks to EU environmental legislation – UK sulphur dioxide emissions have fallen by 94% since 1970 and carbon monoxide emissions by 80% in the same period.

  • In 1976, just 27 UK beaches were deemed to have clean bathing waters. Thanks to EU rules, almost all UK bathing waters meet European cleanliness standards (583 out of 597 in 2011).

  • The UK has been an environmental leader in Europe, encouraging other EU countries to sign up to ambitious climate targets.

  • Protections for our wildlife and habitats are a key part of our EU membership and could be lost in the event of Britain leaving the EU.

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