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ENEP's UK members respond to BREXIT

The UK’s environmental sector has reacted with shock to the referendum result, which will take Britain out of the EU.  The challenge now for the new UK Government and Prime Minister Theresa May will be to tackle the BREIXT plan within the two years permitted under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.  An interesting perspective how this Article 50 negotiation might unfold has been debated in a recent podcast published by the Brussels current affairs online magazine eSharp. Council legal service, Jean-Claude Piris, spells out some of the challenges that will face the European Council (that will lead in the negotiations here) and the UK Government in the months ahead.  Where will UK environmental policy figure in all of this? Will the UK’s future legislation match or exceed EU ambition in future or worse still go into decline?  Some consider that the certainty of targets established by EU environmental legislation has been significant for businesses and local authorities to invest in the growth and innovation of sectors like waste management.  All of these questions and more are being asked by our UK members.

CIEEM is committed to campaigning to ensure future environmental legislation is beneficial to the natural environment. CIEEM argues that all future legislation must be underpinned by science and evidence and be informed by the fact that protecting and enhancing the natural environment requires holistic consideration. Referring the review of the Nature Directives, a process that CIEEM led through the ENEP TTF on Nature Legislation, it argues that the UK public will not accept weakening of environmental legislation. The current EU body of environmental law will be the minimum level for any new UK legislation to be acceptable once an exit from the EU has been negotiated. CIEEM reiterates that the UK is still a member of the EU and that all EU legislation, policy and regulations are still applicable and enforceable.

Overall the UK Government’s record in the EU Council of Ministers in recent years, can be characterised by a skeptical approach to carbon reduction related policies, but more enthusiastic on habitat-related initiatives. Although early days yet, this could translate into ‘more Europe’ on climate change but possibly less on biodiversity as a general rule. As an example on climate change and energy policy, the UK played a major role in negotiation of the historic Paris Agreement back in December and pushed for a higher level of ambition for the EU through its commitment to the 2030 climate and energy package.

IES confirms that many in the environmental and science communities are shocked and concerned about the future.  IES regrets the uncertainty around the future of funding for some scientific research, as well as the freedom of movement for researchers and students. The Guardian this week reported the early impact of BREXIT being felt on UK participation in EU research & innovation funding through the Horizon 2020 programme. IES underlines that environmental scientists, environmental systems, processes and pollutants rarely reflect political or national boundaries. Success in tackling transboundary problems, IES argues, will continue to work together with the EU.

It also calls for the need to confront the communication challenge after the BREXIT. A number of commentators have suggested that this referendum campaign marks a transition in the UK to an era of post-factual politics, where facts frequently fail to overcome myth.  An issue that ENEP members may wish to reflect upon in their own contexts as expert contributions are devalued and critique of un-evidenced claims is ineffective. Environmental professionals face the challenge and need to consider how scientific experts can more effectively make the case for nature, environmental protection and human wellbeing in the inevitable debates to come

SoCENV is hosting a series of high profile events in the wake of BREXIT.  The first on 21st July titled “Britain in a Changing Europe” where speakers include Baroness Kate Parminter, Liberal Democrats, Spokesperson for Environment and Rural Affairs, Natalie Bennett, Green Party, Leader and Kerry McCarthy MP, Labour.  This will be followed up on the 26th September with a debate in London Brexit: What does it mean for the environment? That Kristof De Smet, ENEP President will address.

One implication being debated in Brussels is the likely impact of Brexit on a slowdown in the start of EU environmental infringement procedures against the UK. The UK currently faces 11 environmental infringements procedures from the European Commission. Habitat protection, water and air quality are high on the current list of concerns.  Whilst experts claim that the impacts of leaving the EU cannot be properly assessed until the country formally invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, a Commission spokesperson would not confirm nor deny the how the UK environmental caseload might be affected as part of the withdrawal negotiations.

Issue 50