Air pollution occurs when quantities of substances which have harmful effects are released into the atmosphere. Harm includes both acute and chronic effects on human health, affecting several different systems and organs, and environmental damage. Some form of air pollution control has existed as far back as the thirteenth century. Legislation imposes controls on emissions from all areas of businesses and private persons to prevent air pollution; industry and transport are particularly affected.
Climate change, a long-term shift in global and regional climate patterns, affects the balance of ecosystems, causes extreme weather events, and threatens the continued viability of human settlements. It has been conclusively attributed to anthropogenic activity, particularly increased carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere resulting from the consumption of fossil fuels. Climate change is characterised by threats to the global environment that, while uncertain, are likely to be severe even if stringent action is taken today to curb emissions. It is intrinsically linked to energy use, which affects all sectors of the economy. Climate change and energy security drive the need to improve energy efficiency as part of a low-carbon economy. Reducing energy use will reduce energy bills, make the energy system more sustainable, and drive down greenhouse gas emissions.
Industrial regulation focuses on controlling the impacts of industry on the environment. It is largely associated the control of polluting emissions and discharges, and achieved primarily through a licencing system. Pollution control is often understood as the core of environmental law. Many of the first environmental laws focused on regulating discharges into air and water and onto land. The Clean Air Act 1956, for instance, was a response to smog engulfing cities from industrial and coal emissions. Early pollution control regimes tended to focus on one type of pollution: water pollution, air pollution, etc. Legislation in the last few decades has shifted towards more integrated approaches.
Product legislation focuses on tackling lifecycle environmental impacts from manufacture to disposal, as well as improving energy and resource efficiency. It impacts not only manufacturers but also the wider economy including consumer-facing sectors such as retail.
International, European and UK laws have been developed to tackle water pollution and safeguard both drinking water quality and the water quality and ecological health of natural water bodies, including rivers, streams, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater.
Wildlife and conservation laws seek to protect habitats and species from harm or destruction. They are particularly important for land-based industries, but can be relevant for any company, especially ones whose processes can impact the natural environment.
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