How Brexit will impact the UK’s environmental policy

Emily Zhao
Mar 22, 2019 · 4 min read
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Photo by: kostasgr via shutterstock

As Prime Minister Theresa May prepares to delay the Brexit negotiations for another three months, others worry that when the UK leaves the EU, they will be free from the oversight environmental regulations, like the EU’s Air Quality Directive. Ranging from water-quality checks to protection for endangered animals, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice have developed an impressive range of legislation which all countries are required to follow.

At the moment, the EU shapes 80 percent of the UK’s environmental policy, so by leaving, the UK will be forced to turn the more than 1,100 EU environmental laws into their own legislation and overhaul their regulatory agencies to deal with a greater capacity of enforcement.

Robin Teverson, a member of Parliament and chairman of the House of Lords’ EU Energy and Environment subcommittee, says that the UK has not fully prepared regulations nor properly resourced the regulatory agency for its work after Brexit.

“We are a mere three weeks away from potentially having to regulate chemicals for ourselves. As far as we can tell we have with neither a functioning database nor a functioning regulator. The government is risking people’s safety, not to mention the viability of the UK’s chemicals sector, by not being adequately prepared,” Teverson said in an interview with PN News.

Furthermore, through Brexit, the UK loses its spot in some very valuable energy projects and programs, like the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) and the EURATOM nuclear research and training programme.

As the world’s oldest and largest emissions trading scheme, the EU-ETS pushes the UK to reduce its carbon emissions by providing incentives and directing the UK’s efforts to the most cost-effective cuts. By dropping out of this agreement, the UK, especially London, also loses some of its power as one of the major trading powers for climate-related financial services.

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Photo by Open Europe

Another old EU institution is EURATOM which regulates European nuclear techniques and facilities under common guidelines. With fifteen reactors generating 21% of its energy consumption, the UK depends on EURATOM’s transportation of nuclear materials between European countries. Britain is also a major producer of enriched uranium, which is used in nuclear fuel, and owns a third of Urenco, the European uranium-enrichment company.

Without EURATOM and its predetermined agreements between countries, the UK could run out of nuclear fuel within two years, meaning nuclear power stations would be unable to produce energy.

On the other hand, some believe that the EU’s tendency for slow decision-making inhibits the UK’s policy-making in general. According to Independent, George Eustice, a Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said in a speech that the EU was afflicted by “inertia, inconsistency and indecision”, whereas a pro-Brexit UK would be “more agile” and have the ability “to act, to decide and to get things done.”

In an interview with Politico, Daniel Barnes, spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said, “We are committed to publishing a long-term plan that builds on our long history of wildlife and environmental protection, and sets out a new approach to managing the environment,”

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Photo used under the Creative Commons License

And, the UK has taken some initiative to demonstrate their commitment to environmental protection. When it comes to air pollution control, UK cities had consistently performed poorly according to the World Health Organization’s requirements, even under the EU’s respectable standards. However, on January 14, the UK published a new initiative, called the Clear Air Strategy, which established the Office of Environmental Protection (most likely to replace the EU’s management) and plans to “cut public exposure to particulate matter pollution, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).” More specifically, their website claims “we will reduce PM2.5 concentrations across the UK, so that the number of people living in locations above the WHO guideline level of 10 μg/m3 is reduced by 50% by 2025.”

If the stalemate in Parliament drags on, it may even affect the Cop26 summit and the UK’s participation in future global climate talks. For example, in the Paris Climate Agreement, Britain acts as a single entity with the EU where all participating countries supported the same propositions and goals. However, After Brexit, the UK will need to establish up its own position within the UNFCCC as an independent member. It will have to ratify the Paris Agreement on its own and produce its individual NDC, which will require extra time, space and resources.

In the end, it seems like whether the UK leaves immediately or drags on negotiations for even more months, the country remains committed to international promises of reducing national emissions and converting to clean energy. While these goals may be more difficult to achieve with the EU’s network of regulations and partnerships, Parliament is at least showing signs of taking initiatives to prepare for the separation.

For more information, check out https://www.brexitenvironment.co.uk/

Emily Zhao

Written by

The Climate Reporter Editor-in-Chief | Earth Optimist | Filmmaker | Based in Maryland

The Climate Reporter

An international youth-led environmental news organization covering the work of the growing youth climate movement and more widely known environmental movement.

Emily Zhao

Written by

The Climate Reporter Editor-in-Chief | Earth Optimist | Filmmaker | Based in Maryland

The Climate Reporter

An international youth-led environmental news organization covering the work of the growing youth climate movement and more widely known environmental movement.

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