More than 17.4 million Britons voted on June 23 to sever ties with the European Union, compared with 16.1 million who voted to remain, according to The New York Times. The referendum came about as a result of a promise made in 2013 by then-Prime Minister David Cameron to conciliate an increasingly vocal anti-European Union wing of his Conservative Party. Many people have expressed their disappointment and called for European unity. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has electrified the interest of policymakers and leaders as the consequences of the vote unfold.
The consequences of their eventual departure are not only bound to affect the economy, but also the environment, which has become an important concern for the EU in recent years. Protection of the environment is a well-established policy in the European Union. However, it was not until November 1973 when the First Environmental Action program was agreed. The decision to do so was based on outcomes of the first UN Conference on Environment in Stockholm in 1972.
Balancing the interests of all Member States, the environmental measures have been the result of rigorous and detailed negotiations, therefore, by leaving the EU, UK law-makers would be presented with a tremendous challenge in terms of rewriting complex environmental laws. The collection of all environmental laws is also called environmental acquis. The UK Parliament’s EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee explained that the EU is the main source of environmental legislation in the UK, and the UK’s work is mostly conducted in conjunction with the EU. As a result, the UK’s departure from the EU will have a significant impact on environmental policies.
In an open letter to the then Secretary of State for Environment, Liz Truss, the Green Alliance, an independent think tank focused on leadership for the environment in the United Kingdom, expressed concerns about leaving the EU and the anticipated damage to the UK’s environment. The letter shows the benefits of being part of a system with high standards and environmental protection. It stated that “being part of the Union has enabled us to coordinate action and agree policies that have improved our quality of life, including the air we breathe, the seas we fish in, and have protected wildlife which crosses national boundaries.”
One thing most can agree on is that addressing a broad range of environmental issues at the European level has its benefits. For instance, the global nature of many environmental issues makes a collective approach more efficient.
Overall, in the last four decades, the UK has contributed a large amount of scientific and policy advice to the development of EU environmental legislation. I believe that if the UK were to leave the European Union, then by at least remaining within the EEA, most EU legislation regarding the environment would still apply, therefore protecting the nature, ensuring air and water quality, combating climate change, reducing pollution and sustaining natural capital. I believe that Britain should be forced to abide by major EU environmental regulations as part of the Brexit deal.