No field will be more affected by Britain leaving the European Union than that of protection of our natural environment - and this for three reasons.
- First, protection of the environment is the ultimate case of urgent need for international cooperation at both continental and global levels. No country can protect its environment effectively without the full cooperation and support of its neighbours both close and further afield. Common standards, benchmarks, regulations, monitoring and enforcement procedures are essential to ensure that our environment is protected in a sustainable an resilient manner and that our environmental footprint is kept to a minimum.
- Second, the European Union has been particularly effective in developing this field of action and has persuaded its member states to develop and implement some of the more stringent environmental protection measures in the world.
- Third, current and past British Tory governments have demonstrated less than an enthusiastic approach towards the sphere of environmental protection. They have protected the needs of industry and manufacturing lobbies by watering down any regulations limiting their activities or increasing their costs, but have been limited in doing so by common European standards.
Dr Charlotte Burns, expert in European Union environment policy and processes at the Environment Department of the University of York, reached the following conclusions in her recent paper discussing The Implications for UK Environmental Policy of a Vote to Exit the EU:
“In the field of environmental policy, perhaps more than in any other area, the EU has had an overwhelmingly positive effect. Through its EU membership the UK government has been required to put in place a host of policies with strict targets that are legally binding, and to provide regular publicly available reports upon its performance in relation to those targets. If the UK exits from the EU but remains part of the European Economic Area the huge progress made in improving the UK environment could be lost in the absence of external pressure and auditing from EU actors, particularly in the areas of habitats, birds and bathing water, whilst the UK would still be subject to a wide range of EU laws but with little influence over their content. A total withdrawal suggests a much wider erosion of environmental policy, which is perhaps the intention of the right within and without of the Conservative Party, but one which risks significant environmental damage to the UK.”