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UK Acid Rain

In the 1980s, the UK was described by Scandinavian countries as ‘the dirty old man of Europe’ due to high emissions of sulphur dioxide from industrial sources causing transboundary acid rain. Emissions of sulphur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen have since been reduced, although the UK remains a considerable emitter of acidic pollution compared to other European countries. Most of the UK sulphur dioxide comes from power stations (65% in 1999) and other industries (22% in 1999) whilst the largest source of nitrogen oxides is road transport (44% in 1999) and power stations (21% in 1999).

Total deposition of sulphur on the UK during 1998 was around 0.33 million tonnes compared to 1.19 million tonnes emitted in 1999. This highlights that the UK emits more sulphur pollution than is deposited in the UK. A significant proportion of sulphur and nitrogen pollutants are exported to other countries, mainly Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Russia. The wind direction is the main factor affecting where UK pollutants are deposited.

The UK experiences typical impacts from acid rain. In 1995, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Forest Survey revealed that 42% of UK trees were healthy, 45% were slightly defoliated and 13% were damaged. Both coniferous and broadleaf trees showed the same degree of damage. Freshwater acidification is a serious problem in susceptible parts of the UK. These include central and southwest Scotland, the Pennines, parts of Cumbria, central and North Wales and parts of Northern Ireland. Many historic monuments and buildings are affected by air pollution in the UK, in particular York Minster and Westminster Abbey.

The UK is committed to reducing sulphur emissions through the 1998Gothenburg Protocol. This Protocol requires UK to reduce sulphur emissions by 85% and nitrogen emissions by 49% by year 2010 (from 1980 levels). To meet these requirements, emissions of sulphur dioxide in UK are being reduced, through the use of cleaner technology within the power generation industry, and the use of cleaner fuels and car engines in the transport sector.