All areas of environment at high risk of damage due to ‘no deal’ Brexit, says Greener UK

All areas of environmental policy and protections are at high risk of being weakened or negatively affected after Brexit, according to Greener UK’s latest Brexit Risk Tracker.

Greener UK, a coalition of 13 major environmental organisations co-ordinated by think tank Green Alliance, has been tracking the progress of Brexit and the risk posed to environmental protections since June 2017, with the latest update providing a grim picture of the UK’s preparedness for Brexit.

With the UK’s future relationship with the EU and the terms of its withdrawal from the bloc still no clearer after almost two and a half years of negotiations, and with the negotiated withdrawal deal yet again rejected by Parliament yesterday (13 March), Greener UK states that the ‘increasingly ominous prospect’ of leaving the EU without a deal ‘poses potentially dire consequences for the environment, in the short and longer term’ across all eight policy areas – air pollution, chemicals, water, waste and resources, fisheries, climate and energy, farming and land use and nature protection.

The coalition highlights particular concern with the lack of a ‘strong legal and institutional framework’ to uphold environmental standards after Brexit. According to Greener UK, the government’s plans for environmental governance and principles, as detailed in the draft environment bill, ‘would leave environmental protections weaker after Brexit’. The proposed environment governance body ‘lacks the powers and independence of the European Court of Justice and European Commission’ and has ‘inadequate’ clauses on environmental principles – not to mention that the bill won’t be ready in time for 29 March 2019, the UK’s supposed date of withdrawal from the EU.

All areas of environment at high risk of damage due to ‘no deal’ Brexit, says Greener UK
Greener UK's latest Brexit Risk Tracker.

A closer look at waste and resources

As with all eight policy areas, the risk posed to waste and resources by a ‘no deal’ Brexit is classified as high, with such an outcome threatening progress made in the sector in recent months. The recently published Resources and Waste Strategy, the first significant government publication on waste since the 2011 Waste Review, lays out how the UK aims to boost recycling rates and move towards a more circular economy, along with proposals such as a full cost recovery extended producer responsibility (EPR) regime, consistent recycling collections across the UK, a tax on plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled content and a deposit return scheme for beverage containers, all of which are currently out for consultation.

However, Greener UK is concerned that the strategy does not yet have any legal underpinning and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) lacks the capacity to deliver on the ambitious recycling targets laid out by the EU’s Circular Economy Package (CEP), which the strategy commits to transposing into UK law.

During the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in October, it was revealed that from 2018/19 to 2020/21, Defra will see no additional funding, with its capital budget frozen at £600 million for each financial year, while its departmental resource budget will be reduced from £1.6 billion to £1.5 billion between 2018/19 and 2019/20.

These cuts come after Defra has already accommodated £147 million of budget cuts across 2017/18 and 2018/19. It is also the department with the most Brexit work streams – around 70 – and has had to undergo a major recruitment drive in order to prepare for the UK’s legal date of departure from the EU of 29 March 2019.

All areas of environment at high risk of damage due to ‘no deal’ Brexit, says Greener UK
A 'no deal' Brexit could cause significant disruption to exports of RDF.
A ‘no deal’ Brexit would also poses a serious threat to the waste industry in terms of labour shortages and waste exports, given the likely delays at UK ports, which would affect the smooth and frictionless trade of more than 3.6 million tonnes of refuse derived fuel (RDF) to mainland Europe. Environment Secretary Michael Gove admitted in a letter to Lord Teverson, Chair of the European Union Energy and Environment Sub-Committee in the House of Lords, back in January that provisions were being made for the stockpiling of waste in the event of a ‘no deal’ withdrawal.

However, in recent weeks progress has been made in ensuring that existing licences for the shipment of waste between the UK and EU would remain valid in the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario – the European Commission previously stated these would become invalid and would have to undergo a re-approval process. It is now understood that Defra informed the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM) on 1 March that it has agreed re-approval of 100 per cent of the UK’s notified waste shipments to the EU in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

Even so, this does not solve the issue of what will happen to Ireland’s waste – if the UK leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement on 29 March it will become illegal for Ireland to export its waste to the UK, as under the EU Waste Shipment Regulations member states are prohibited from exporting waste for disposal or exporting mixed municipal waste for recovery to states outside the EU or the European Free Trade Area. Such a situation could potentially precipitate an increase in the illegal movement of waste across the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, according to Greener UK.

‘All positive development would be at risk’

Libby Peake, Senior Policy Advisor for resources at Green Alliance, commented on the latest Brexit Risk Tracker update, telling Resource: "The increased prospect of no deal means that, for the first time since the EU referendum, Greener UK has concluded that all areas of the environment – from wildlife and air quality to chemical safety and resources – are at high risk. The government has boldly promised it will protect and enhance environmental standards as we leave the EU, but this vision of a green and healthy UK would be in real danger if we crash out of the EU without a deal.

"In the specific case of resources, the last quarter saw the release of a renewed Resources and Waste Strategy – the first in more than a decade. This means we've finally got the positive momentum the sector's been calling for for years. But there are already questions of capacity and delivery, and in a ‘no deal’ scenario, all of the positive developments would be at risk. We urge the government to rule out ‘no deal’ and deliver on its promises to lead the world on environmental standards after Brexit."

You can view Greener UK’s latest Brexit Risk Tracker on the coalition’s website.

Related Articles