The Commission has published over 30 reports since its inception in 1970.
The Commission keeps under a review a list of topics that have been suggested for further investigation.
On 19th March 2009 the Commisison announced that The Environmental Impacts of Demographic Change in the UK would be the topic of its 29th study.
Contact the study leader, Yolanda Rizzi
One of the Commission’s current studies is on Adapting Institutions to Climate Change. The focus of the study is whether the UK has the institutional capacity and arrangements necessary to adapt to changes in the natural environment brought about by climate change. The scope of the study is the UK in an EU context. To help illustrate the issues, the Commission invited evidence based on three exemplar subjects: Biodiversity, nature conservation and protected areas; sea-level and coastal zones and freshwater (too little and too much).
The Commission believes these areas and their interconnections are particularly challenging, and will help to illustrate the complexity of adapting the UK to climate change. These arrangements will cover a broad spectrum ranging from formal governance processes for government and large organisations through to informal and local activities. Consideration will be given to the UK’s capacity to understand how climate change is likely to impact on ecosystems and on what time scales; on the way society values the natural environment under changing circumstances; and on the mechanisms that might be employed to manage the natural environment so as to safeguard these values. It is anticipated that this report will be published in winter 2009.
- More about the Adapting Institutions Climate Change study
- Recent news relating to the Adaptation study
The Commission has published a short study on Artificial light in the environment. This topic was selected in recognition of the increasingly pervasive nature of artificial light, and hence of its effects. Natural light plays a fundamental role in the biology of organisms. Artificial light has the potential to disrupt the biology of many species. The study follows on from our March 2007 report on the Urban Environment where we identified light as an important issue in determining local environmental quality.
Contact Jo Foreman for more information
On 12th November the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution published their 27th report on Novel Materials in the Environment: The case of nanotechnology. The report was prompted by concerns about potential releases to the environment from applications of metals and minerals that have not previously been widely used. As the majority of the evidence the Commission received related to manufactured nanomaterials, the Commission decided to focus on this sector, as an exemplar. The report examines issues related to innovation in the materials sector and the challenges and benefits arising from the introduction of novel materials (specifically nanomaterials). The report makes recommendations on how to deal with ignorance and uncertainty in this area, which could also be applied to other areas of fast-paced technological development. The Government published their response to the RCEP's report in June 2009.
- Download report (pdf, 4.7MB)
- Download summary (pdf, 1.2MB)
- More about the Novel Materials study
- Download the Government response to the RCEP report (pdf, 161KB)
In its 26th report on The Urban Environment, the Commission called for the development of a clear policy on the urban environment. The Commission found that there are many opportunities and attractions of urban living, but urban areas also harbour many problems. For example, urban areas contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and excess water consumption. Problems of air pollution, traffic congestion and poor housing threaten our current and future health and wellbeing. One of the Commission’s key recommendations was that a new urban environmental contract should be established to forge partnerships between local and central government and the private and voluntary sectors. This would provide the basis for establishing a workable, multi-faceted urban environment policy which is essential to deliver the urban areas in which people will want to live and work in the future. The RCEP recommended that the contract should specify the ‘high level’ urban environmental targets that Government regards as essential, while devolving to local authorities the responsibility for defining and prioritising action on environmental problems of local concern. The Government response envisaged delivery of broadly equivalent objectives through the recently introduced Local Area Agreements. A separate response from Scotland is awaited.
- Download report (pdf, 5.5MB)
- Download summary (pdf, 838KB)
- Download the Government response to the RCEP report (UK) (pdf, 737KB)
- More about the Urban Environment study
In June 2004 the RCEP announced that it had agreed to a request from the Rt Hon Alun Michael, the then Minister of Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality, to carry out a special study on pesticides and bystander exposure. The Commission examined the scientific evidence on which Defra has based its decision on bystander exposure and its policy on access to information on crop spraying. In its report on Crop Spraying and the Health of Residents and Bystanders the Commission also considered wider issues related to the handling and communication of risk and uncertainty, as well as public involvement, values and perceptions in this context. In its report, the Commission advocated a more precautionary policy, based on the assumption that it was reasonable to assume that pesticide exposure could cause chronic ill-health to residents and other bystanders. The Commission recommended the use of buffer zones, notification of residents before spraying and a re-evaluation of current risk models.
- Download report (pdf,1.4MB)
- Download the Government response to the RCEP report (UK) (pdf, 126KB)
- More about scoping the Crop Spraying study
The 25th report entitled Turning the Tide - Addressing the Impact of Fisheries on the Marine Environment was published in December 2005. The Commission found that fisheries policies have failed and radical change is needed to shift their focus from commercial over-exploitation to long-term protection of the marine environment. Positive steps need to be taken to allow the environment to recover. The report recommended a more strategic approach to managing the marine environment through planning. The RCEP recommended that marine reserves should be created to protect 30% of the seas around the UK from the environmental impacts of fishing and similar measures need to be implemented across all European seas, stating that intervention on this scale would be necessary to preserve important marine ecosystems, and to break the cycle of unrealistic quotas and diminishing fish populations. The Government response was broadly positive and reflected in the Marine Bill put before Parliament in February 2009, which introduces a more strategic approach and provides for marine protected areas.
A special report on Biomass as a renewable energy source was published in May 2004. In the special report, the Commission found that the opportunities for using biomass to reach CO2 reduction targets for the UK are significant; and recommended that energy policy should promote the development of the biomass sector to help a low-carbon economy and invited the Government to improve measures to encourage biomass as a long-term, stable and secure option for renewable energy. In the UK, there are already substantial resources in the form of agricultural residues, forestry materials and municipal arisings (park and tree cuttings) as well as dedicated energy crops. The failure to realise the potential of these resources is due to a lack of effective, co-ordinated government policy to establish investor and farmer security and to develop the supply chain. The initial Government response expressed agreement with some of the RCEP's points. This led onto formal consideration by a working group chaired by Sir Ben Gill, which broadly endorsed the RCEP report’s main findings except on the need for a renewable heat obligation.
- Download report (pdf, 2.37MB)
- Download the Government response to the Biomass report (pdf, 78KB)
- More about scoping the Biomass study
The 24th report on Chemicals in Products - Safeguarding the Environment and Human Health was published in June 2003. At the heart of the Commission's concerns are some 30,000 chemicals which are used in the European Union but have never been subject to any comprehensive testing on any risks they pose to humans and ecosystems. The report focused on chemicals used in products which can gradually find their way into the environment and people's bodies. The report recommended that much of the backlog of testing should be addressed through modern approaches to assessing chemical functionality (QSARs). Although the UK Government approach was sceptical, this approach is now accepted as playing a key role.
A special report on The Environmental Effects of Civil Aircraft in Flight was published in November 2002. In the special report, the Commission expressed deep concern about the global impacts of the rapid growth in air travel. At current rates of increase in air traffic, aircraft emissions will become a major contributor to global warming. As short-haul passenger flights make a disproportionately large contribution to the global environmental impacts of air transport, a shift away from the use of air transport to rail could reap considerable environmental benefits. The report suggested that instead of encouraging airport expansion and proliferation, the Government should facilitate a modal shift from air to high-speed rail for short-haul journeys. The Commission recommended that action be taken to include international aviation emissions in the emissions trading scheme envisaged as one of the Kyoto Protocol's implementing mechanisms. Within the UK, the Government has now accepted the inclusion of aviation in carbon reduction targets following a further report from the Committee on Climate Change.
The Commission’s 23rd report on Environmental Planning was published in March 2002. It recommended that there should be clearer policies and objectives for the environment in each part of the UK, and statutory recognition of the central role of town and country planning in protecting and enhancing the environment. The report advocates rationalising the overall system for environmental planning by introducing integrated spatial strategies covering all aspects of sustainable development; and ensuring that such strategies cover all forms of land use, in particular agriculture and forestry, as the largest uses. It makes recommendations to improve considerably the availability of information about the environment; and proposes further steps to engage a wider range of people in decisions about setting and achieving environmental goals.
- Download report (pdf, 5.18MB)
- Download the Governmentresponses to the report (England pdf, 2.28MB | Scotland pdf, 2.47MB | Wales pdf, 2.16MB)
- More about scoping the Environmental Planning study
The 22nd report on Energy - The Changing Climate was published in June 2000. The report advocates a transformation in the use of energy in the UK to counter climate change. As a contribution to global efforts to prevent excessive climate change, the Royal Commission recommends that the UK should plan to reduce by 60% over the next 50 years the amount of carbon dioxide it produces by burning fossil fuels. Success would necessitate a reversal of the previous trend of growing energy use. The report explores what this will mean for industry and households, and highlights how Government policies need to change. The Government published its response to the 22nd report in February 2003. The Climate Change Act has now enshrined a higher (80%) reduction target following further advice from the Committee on Climate Change, in light of new scientific data.
- Download report (pdf, 7.1MB)
- Download summary report (pdf, 3.25MB)
- Download the Government response to the RCEP report (pdf, 677KB)
- Download the review of the report carried out by the IEEP (pdf, 1.9MB)
The 21st report on Setting Environmental Standards was published in October 1998. It argued that there must be a more robust basis for setting environmental standards. It concluded that scientific assessments, and analyses of technology, economics, risk and implementation issues, must inform policy decisions but cannot pre-empt them. Setting a standard or target is a practical judgement which has to be made in the light of all relevant factors. People's values must be taken into account throughout, beginning at the stage of defining the problem and framing the questions that need to be addressed. In July 2000, the Government published its response to the 21st report.
In October 1996 the Commission announced that it was reviewing what had happened in the transport field of transport since the publication of the 18th report. The 20th report on Transport and the Environment - Developments since 1994 was published in September 1997. It found few signs of changes in previous trends, emphasised the need for concerted effort and radical action to make transport more sustainable, and set out the requirements for integrated transport systems. The Government's response to the 20th report was published in October 1998. In October 2002, IEEP completed a review of the 20th report on behalf of the Commission.
- Download report (pdf, 3.72MB)
- Download the Government response to the RCEP report (opens link to National Archives website in a new window)
- The 2002 review of the 20th report
The 19th report on Sustainable Use of Soil was published in February 1996. It recommended that the government draw up and implement a soil protection policy for the UK. It made specific recommendations about the role of the Environment Agencies, and of central and local Government; about controlling the impact on soils from spreading of sewage sludge and other forms of waste disposal; about the re-use of contaminated sites; and about conserving soils used for agriculture. In January 1997, the Government published its response to the 19th report. In March 2002, a consultant prepared a review of the 19th report on behalf of the Commission.
The 18th report on Transport and the Environment was published in October 1994. It reviewed the environmental effects of transport systems, and highlighted the implications of rapid growth in road and air travel. It proposed 8 objectives and a number of quantified targets as the basis for a transport policy for the UK which will be sustainable well into the next century. It made wide-ranging recommendations about integrating transport policy and land use, increasing the use made of environmentally less damaging forms of transport for passengers and freight, and minimising the adverse impact of road and rail transport.The Government did not publish a response to this report.
- Download report (pdf, 11MB)
The 17th report on Incineration of Waste was published in May 1993. It called for a national strategy for waste management, which will give priority to creating less waste, recycling as much of it as possible, and recovering energy from what remains. It welcomed the considerable increase in the efforts devoted to waste minimisation and the recycling of materials since the Commission published a comprehensive report on waste management in 1985. For the foreseeable future, however, there would continue to be large amounts of household waste requiring disposal. It concluded that incineration under carefully controlled conditions, followed by appropriate landfilling of the solid residues, was likely to represent the best practicable environmental option for such wastes. The Government's response to the Incineration of Waste report was published in July 1994.
The 16th report on Freshwater Quality was published in June 1992. It looked at the quality of surface and groundwater in the UK, discussed the sources of pollution which affect these waters and how their quality might be improved. It considered the role of economic instruments and recommended a charging scheme for dischargers to freshwater. The Government's response was published in February 1995.
The 15th report on Emissions from Heavy Duty Diesel Vehicles was published in September 1991. It looked at the impact of diesel emissions, considered the scope for further reductions beyond those agreed for new vehicles in the European Community and discussed ways in which emissions from vehicles in service might be reduced. It paid particular attention to emissions in urban areas because of the concentration of vehicles, people and buildings there. In December 1992, the Government published its response to the 15th report.
14th report: GENHAZ - A System for the Critical Appraisal of Proposals to Release Genetically Modified Organisms into the Environment (1991)
The 14th report was entitled GENHAZ - A System for the Critical Appraisal of Proposals to Release Genetically Modified Organisms into the Environment and was published in June 1991. It followed up proposals in the 13th Report for identifying hazards in releasing GMOs (the term now used in place of GEOs). The system is based on a procedure known as HAZOP which is used in the chemical industry and elsewhere to identify hazards, for example in chemical manufacturing plant. It helps those responsible to think imaginatively and carefully about unplanned events that might arise. The Commission adapted HAZOP to the genetic engineering context. The government's response to the Report was published in December 1994.
The 13th report on The Release of Genetically Engineered Organisms to the Environment was published in July 1989. It was the first attempt in the United Kingdom to look comprehensively at the risks to the environment involved in the release of genetically engineered organisms (GEOs), how they might be minimised and what form of statutory control was needed to ensure that necessary precautions were taken. The report recommended that releases should be subject to licensing by the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Health and Safety Commission after an assessment of the risk posed in each case, and that those carrying out releases should be under a duty to take all reasonable steps for the protection of the environment. The Government published its response to the 13th report in June 1993.
The 12th report on Best Practicable Environmental Option published in February 1988, was the Commission's contribution to the ‘European Year of the Environment’ programme. Developing what was said about BPEO in the 5th, 10th and 11th reports, the Commission urged Government and industry to develop pollution control measures that took account of risks to the whole environment. It set out a procedure for finding the BPEO for projects affecting the environment and emphasised the need for openness in the form of an audit trail. The Government's response to the Report was published December 1992.
The 11th report on Managing Waste: The Duty of Care published in December 1985, was concerned with the handling and disposal of waste (other than radioactive waste). Its principal recommendation was that all those who produce waste should have a 'duty of care' to ensure that their wastes were subsequently managed and disposed of without harm to the environment. The Government's response to the Report was published as Pollution Paper No 24 in September 1986. At the same time the Department of the Environment issued a consultation paper setting out in detail proposals for strengthening existing legal controls over the disposal of industrial and commercial waste.
The 10th report, entitled Tackling Pollution - Experience and Prospects, published in February 1984, contained a wide-ranging review of priorities for the future and the action that was needed to combat new and growing forms of pollution. It made a number of recommendations, particularly about coastal and air pollution, public access to information and the development of environmental policy in the European Community. The government responded to the Report in Pollution Paper No 22, published in December 1984.
The 9th report entitled Lead in the Environment, was published in April 1983. The Commission concluded that there was an insufficient safety margin between lead concentrations in the blood of most people and the concentrations which were known to be harmful. Recommendations were made to reduce exposure to lead from water, food, paint, dust and air, including the introduction of unleaded petrol. The Government responded to these recommendations in July 1983 in Pollution Paper No 19, having already announced, at the time of the report's publication, its acceptance of the key recommendation on petrol.
The 8th report on Oil Pollution of the Sea was published in October 1981. It examined the effects on the marine environment of oil, both from routine discharges and from accidental spills. The Government responded to the recommendations, aimed at preventing and combating marine oil pollution, in Pollution Paper No 20, published in December 1983.
The 7th report on Agriculture and Pollution was published in September 1979. It reviewed both pollution arising from agricultural practices (in particular from pesticides, nitrogenous fertilisers and farm wastes) and the effects of pollution on agriculture. Pollution Paper No 21, published in December 1983, set out the Government's response.
The 6th report on Nuclear Power and the Environment, published in September 1976, had a major influence on the development of environmental safeguards for nuclear power. The Commission's recommendations covered issues such as discharges of radioactivity to the environment and the disposal of radioactive wastes. The Government responded by way of a White Paper in May 1977.
The concept of 'best practicable environmental option' (BPEO), designed to assist decision-taking in situations where controlling pollution in one environmental medium (for example, air) can lead to increased pollution in another (for example, water) was introduced in the 5th report on Air Pollution Control: an Integrated Approach, published in January 1976. There were also far-reaching proposals for changes in the arrangements for controlling air pollution. The Government's response was set out in Pollution Paper No 18, published in December 1982.
The 4th report, entitled Pollution Control: Progress and Problems was published in December 1974. It presented a comprehensive review of environmental pollution and described the structure of pollution control in the United Kingdom. Despite improvements in some fields, the Commission was struck by the extent to which pollution of air and water, and dereliction of land, still existed in the major industrial areas. The Department of the Environment's Pollution Paper No 4, published in March 1975, reviewed the action that the Government had taken in response to the recommendations in RCEP’s first four reports (1971-1974).
Pollution in some British Estuaries and Coastal Waters was the title of the 3rd report, published in September 1972. In the Commission's view British estuaries and coastal waters had been given too little protection by Parliament against gross pollution from industrial and domestic waste. The Commission prescribed urgent action to improve matters, both by the better use of the existing powers of pollution control authorities and through the already proposed legislation to set up new regional water authorities. A Minority Report recommended that pollution should be controlled by introducing a system of charges for disposal of wastes into rivers and tidal waters. The Department of the Environment's Pollution Paper No 4, published in March 1975, reviewed the action that the Government had taken in response to the recommendations in the first four reports of the RCEP (1971-1974). Recommendations made in the 3rd report relating to the control of pollution in estuaries had been implemented in the Control of Pollution Act 1974.
The 2nd report entitled Three Issues in Industrial Pollution was published in March 1972. The Commission called for less secrecy about industrial effluents and wastes; for greater understanding of the environmental impact of new chemical products; and for greater control over the tipping of potentially dangerous wastes on land. The Department of the Environment's Pollution Paper No 4, published in March 1975, reviewed the action that the government had taken in response to the recommendations in the first four reports of the RCEP (1971-1974).
The 1st report of the RCEP was published in February 1971. After reviewing the state of the physical environment in Britain at the beginning of the 1970s the Commission defined the key tasks for attacking pollution. From the outset the Commission recognised that the most serious problems of air pollution were of a global scale. The Department of the Environment's Pollution Paper No 4, published in March 1975, reviewed the action that the government had taken in response to the recommendations in the first four reports of the RCEP (1971-1974).
- Download report (pdf, 3.4MB)
- Download the Government response to the RCEP report (pdf, 1MB)
Page last updated: 6 December 2009