We have reviewed a number of articles, papers and opinion pieces, published both before and after the Brexit vote, about the potential impacts of a ‘leave’ outcome on UK environmental policy. This is a brief summary of some of the key issues, with links to longer articles that may be of interest.
Some of the key environmental directives introduced by the EU include; the Bathing Water Directive; the Air Quality Framework Directive and the Natura 2000, habitats and birds directive. What impact have these directives had on our environment in the UK?
Before the introduction of the Bathing Water Directive, raw effluent was often pumped directly into the sea close to many of our most popular beaches. This EU directive was a key factor in changing the management of sewage treatment in the UK and in reducing nitrate emissions. As a result, our beaches and coastal waters are cleaner and safer today, which not only supports our health, but also the local economies of our coastal resorts. Find out more: Marine Conservation Society
During the 1970s and 1980s we had the highest sulphur dioxide emissions in the EU. Since then our air quality has improved as EU regulation, including the Air Quality Directive has required successive governments to tackle both sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.
Nevertheless, particularly for those of us who live in London or other large cities, we know that air quality is a cause for concern, particularly for those with respiratory and heart diseases. In 2011, the legal specialist NGO, Client Earth, took the UK Government to the European Court for failing to meet nitrogen dioxide targets, set in the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive, in several large urban areas including London. Following an inadequate response from the UK Government the case was taken to the UK Supreme Court, which ordered the Government to come up with a plan to address breaches more quickly. Find out more: Client Earth Clean Air Handbook
The Natura 2000, Habitats and Birds directive requires the UK government to provide protected wildlife zones. Evidence shows that before the introduction of the directive, protected sites were being lost at a rate of 15% per year. This rate has now declined to around 1% a year. Find out more: The Birds and Habitats Directives, BirdLife
EU policy on the environment reflects an approach that acknowledges that environmental policy has greater impact when it is managed across borders. Rivers and forests do not stop at national boundaries and the air is not stationary. This approach has also brought the EU to the forefront of Climate Change policy. The ambitious EU emissions targets support the burgeoning green business sector in the UK, which the CBI suggests currently contributes around 8% to GDP.
At this point the implications of Brexit on the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agriculture Policy is very unclear, but it could have profound affects on fish stocks around our coastal waters and wildlife management across our farming communities.
As negotiations proceed we will understand how likely it is that the UK will stay as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), or whether it will negotiate a bilateral agreement with the EU. This will then clarify which areas of policy and regulation will need to be complied with as a member of the EEA, or where the UK will need to draft new laws and regulations.
For those of us who value cleaner coasts and beaches, better air quality, cleaner rivers, protected wildlife habitats and a cooperative, long-term strategy to address climate change, we need to watch closely how negotiations leave current UK environmental policy vulnerable to watering down or revision.
If you are interested in reading more about this topic, we have selected the following reports:
1. Friends of the Earth, ‘The EU Referendum and the Environment’, Dr Charlotte Burns, University of York, Expert in EU Environment Policy.
2. Institute for European Environmental Policy with the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and WWF, ‘The potential policy and environmental consequences for the UK of a departure form the European Union’.
(This gives details on which elements of EU legislation are included in an EEA agreement on page 27.)
3. The Aldersgate Group (an alliance of leaders from business, politics and civil society that drives action for a sustainable economy).
Latest news: ‘Business group urges new PM to support UK stability and growth through ambitious environmental policy’