When earlier this year the European Parliament’s environment committee held a hearing on Brexit, environmental NGOs welcomed it as an opportunity to raise awareness on strong environmental safeguards and governance in the United Kingdom, following a future relationship that will exist between the European Union and the UK.
NGOs have long insisted that the UK and EU should, as a minimum, ensure the same level of environmental protection that currently exists. One key aspect of this is to guarantee that any future trade between the two parties is carried out in full alignment with the EU environmental acquis.
The EU’s environmental acquis has long been recognised as a significant driver for sustainability within the EU and beyond.
There has been uncertainty on what sort of environmental relationship will be established between the EU and the UK. I believe that a strong framework for close future cooperation on environmental issues is pivotal.
As the UK proceeds with its exit out of the EU bloc, it is important to keep in mind that any lowering of environmental standards in the UK would negatively impact environmental protection within the EU27. Such policies range from nature protection laws to rules governing air quality standards, the use of hazardous chemicals and the management of fish stocks shared jointly between the EU27 and the UK.
For example, a lowering of nature protection standards in the UK would risk undermining the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network and threaten the conservation status of a range of species of European importance. A failure by the UK to meet its national commitments against air pollution under agreed legislation such as the National Emission Ceilings Directive means neighbouring countries will be negatively affected by UK pollution and the EU27 would consequently have to increase their own domestic efforts. This applies both ways, and any issues within the EU27 would impact the UK too. Which is why I believe that on environmental matters, the UK and the EU need to be on the same page and sign up to the same regulations.
I agree with the NGOs who insist that any future agreement should include an effective mechanism for continued close cooperation on transboundary environmental matters and shared international commitments. In this regard, agreements must be robust, non-ambiguous and readily enforceable.
As the ENVI committee told the EP’s Brexit Steering Group, the best option for environment, public health and food safety is for the UK to remain fully aligned with current and future EU legislation. If we consider the trade between the EU and the UK and focus on UK products entering the single market, it is of utmost importance that the UK continues to comply with the EU environmental, health and food safety standards. In cases where products are not regulated directly, standards must be addressed specifically in the withdrawal agreement.
Policy alignment allows for a safeguarding of our shared environment.
Both the UK and the EU remain bound by their shared commitments, including the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and the Paris agreement.
Sustainability has long been at the heart of European collaboration. Environment does not stop at the borders. As such, what has been achieved over the past 40 years on addressing cross-border environmental issues should not be lost. Ultimately, these standards are in place to ensure environmental protection as well as citizens’ health and well-being, wherever they are.