Environment experts pen Brexit warning to government
The letter, coordinated by environmental think tank Green Alliance, states that EU coordination, legislation and policy has been ‘critical’ to improving the UK’s environment, and that its membership in the EU should be used to strengthen environmental action.
The 14 signatories all have experience of the role of EU agreements on the UK and include Baroness Young, former Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, Professor Sir John Laughton, former Chair of the Royal Commission on Environment and Pollution and Dame Fiona Reynolds, Chair of the Green Alliance and former Director-General of the National Trust.
Should the UK leave the EU, the letter says, it is unclear what elements of European policy would continue to apply to the UK, and the country would no longer be able to help shape EU policy or influence the environmental performance of other member states.
The letter reads: ‘Being part of the Union has enabled us to co-ordinate action and agree policies that have improved our quality of life, including the air we breathe, the seas we fish in…. Higher European manufacturing standards for cars, lights and household appliances have lowered consumer energy costs, and stimulated business innovation.’
This message echoes a speech delivered by Resource Association Chief Executive Ray Georgeson at this year’s Kit Strange Memorial Lecture, in which he called for a shared voice among the resource sector to share its message to government, especially in the run-up to the European referendum.
Georgeson warned that complacency among the industry would send the decision in the direction of ‘no’, an outcome that “we must avoid at all costs”.
Brexit could ‘reverse four decades of progress’
Commenting on the letter, signatory Baroness Barbara Young, former Chief Executive of the Environment Agency and RSPB, said: “Environmental quality and rich natural resources can only be secured by collaboration across national boundaries, and common EU standards promote new technologies and businesses. Brexit would halt and even reverse four decades of progress.”
Professor Sir John Lawton, former Chair of the Royal Commission on Environment and Pollution and former CEO of the Natural Environment Research Council, added: “UK politics has a tendency to be short term and see the natural environment as an impediment to economic growth, and EU agreements help mitigate this by encouraging us to be more long term in our public policy.”
Professor Paul Ekins OBE, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at UCL, said: “Britons have benefitted greatly from EU environmental policy and Britain inside the EU has also been able to shape it. We would lose this ability if we were to leave the EU, while it is very likely that we would still have to follow EU environmental laws if we wished to retain access to the EU’s single market.
“This would effectively reduce UK sovereignty rather than increasing it. Paradoxically, perhaps, membership of the EU is an essential condition for the UK to exercise some sovereign influence over the European forces that affect it.”
Environmental Audit Committee inquiryinquiry assessing the extent to which EU environmental objectives and policies have succeeded in tackling environmental issues in the UK.
Appearing at the final evidence session, Resources Minister Rory Stewart said that Defra was “very comfortable” with directives produced by the European Commission, but that the UK must “make sure that we do not discredit good environmental projects by doing things that do not make sense”.
European agreements, the minster said, are “very helpful” with certain issues: “Air pollution does not, obviously, stop at borders… If we are trying to deal with everything from ash dieback through to oriental gall wasp, we need some kind of international and initially European-wide environmental framework.”
At an earlier evidence session on 13 January, Daniel Calleja Crespo, Director General for the Environment in the European Commission, had said that there had been no plans made for the UK’s potential exit from the union, a point echoed by Stewart.
When asked by the committee where the UK stood with regards to influence on EU environmental policy, Calleja stated that it would be “very high, near the top”.
He said: “The UK has a very effective way of working in Brussels. The UK representative is very strong… When I am in a meeting of member states in a committee and I see that the representative of the UK is very alert, I know something important is happening.”
Stewart’s was the inquiry’s last evidence hearing and the committee will now draft a report.