A report published by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) has suggested that a UK departure from the EU would leave Britain’s environment “in a more vulnerable and uncertain position.”
The report, published in collaboration with The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and WWF UK, aimed to highlight the potential consequences for the environment and for environmental policy of the UK choosing to withdraw from the EU.
The study based its findings on different scenarios for the UK’s future relationship with its neighbours.
According to the analysis, membership of the EU has had “a significant positive impact” on the environment.
The report claimed that EU rules have led to a substantial decline in most industrial sources of air and water pollution, particularly in improving urban air quality and in tackling diffuse water pollution, for example from farming.
It also credits EU environmental policy for the fall in greenhouse gas emissions and rapid recent growth in the deployment of renewable energy.
Further EU environmental achievements also mentioned within the study include significant reductions in the pressures on human health from environmental pollution, a significantly improved system of protection for species and habitats and transformation in waste management, with a major increase in recycling rates and the first steps towards the creation of a more circular economy.
Leaving Europe entirely would mean that future UK governments could make widespread changes to levels of environmental protection.
The Birds and Habitats Directives – policies that are the backbone of conservation in the EU and both of which have generated significant improvement for species and habitats – would no longer apply. Instead, the UK government would be at liberty to change this legislation and the processes in place to deliver it.
The report argues that if the UK were to leave the EU then the UK would be excluded from decision-making on EU law and there would be a risk that environmental standards could be lowered.
“Were the UK to leave the EU, it would face a combination of greater risks to its own, current, domestic decarbonisation ambitions; reduced influence over international negotiations on climate; and a likely reduced level of ambition in EU policy on climate change.”
“It would no longer be possible to exert the same level of influence over decision-making at European level.”
The report also says that there are drawbacks to remaining within Europe. The EU’s bureaucratic nature had the potential slow down clear policy making and it could a long time for the EU to get agreements regarding environmental issues.
It cited the Common Agricultural Policy as one such flaw and argued that it has been responsible for the mass industrialisation of agriculture.
The report also says that the Common Fisheries Policy has been complicated and controversial and has failed to effectively protect the marine environment.
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