June 24th, 2016
Conservation Groups, Environmental Policy Campaigners and Green politicians have today spoken of the risks posed to the environment in the aftermath of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union.
The first point of concern is the environmental stance of high-profile Brexit campaigners like Nigel Farage, who wants to scrap pollution limits on power stations, and Prime Minister hopeful Boris Johnson, who is a climate change skeptic and may attempt to dismantle the UK’s interior legislation that commits them to making deep cuts in carbon emissions. The low priority given to the environment by these influential figures and the 52% of voters who sided with them does not bode well for increased or even maintained environmental protection standards.
Analysts have also pointed to the fact that a large portion of the UK’s environmental protection legislation was as a result of EU laws and directives. Head of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Jeremy Wates commented: “all evidence shows that the EU has brought many environmental benefits for citizens and nature across Europe. It is tragic that these advantages failed to help convince a majority of people in the UK to vote remain. This is bad news for the UK, Europe and the environment. ” In cases where the UK have not met these standards, such as air quality, campaigners have successfully used EU rules to sue Government for inaction. Further examples of environmental protection driven by EU legislation were cleaning up sewage from the UK’s beaches, banning pesticides that harm bees, tackling acid rain, and even the almost 50% of household waste that is now recycled is as a result of EU targets.
Caroline Lucas, Green MEP from Brighton and Hove, commented on the international nature of many environmental problems: “pollution, threats to wildlife and environmental degradation don’t respect national borders – so we clearly need shared solutions to the environmental challenges we all face.” Critical of some aspects of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), she did point out that farmers are some of the most outspoken advocates of remaining in the EU and that the CFP has been instrumental in instating a ban on fish discards.
UK conservation group the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) issued a statement on the need for continued international partnership. “The UK must continue to act internationally, and look to forge comprehensive international agreements for nature conservation and the environment. It is essential that we do not lose the current, hard won, level of legal protection.” Analysis from RSPB and BirdLife International indicates that the most reliable single factor in a species’ fate is whether it has the highest level of protection under the EU’s Birds Directives or not. Species such as the Bittern and Corn Bunting have been brought back from the brink of extinction through their protection under this directive. The Habitats directive has also played a huge role in protecting species such as bats, otters and lizards.
On the loss to the EU of the UK as a strong partner in pushing for ambitious action on Climate Change, Geneviève Pons, Director of WWF European Policy Office said: “EU membership has accelerated the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and helped cut carbon emissions. We also regret losing the UK as a strong and effective advocate for ambitious climate action at EU level, and call on all other Member States to step up their efforts in delivering on the Paris Agreement.”