Leaving the EU: The Environment

Firstly I must apologise for the considerable length of time it has been since my last blog post. March, April and May were extremely busy months, with me completing my dissertation and revising for and sitting my final exams at university. It is now June and there are just 3 months until I leave for Thailand!

But now, on to a topic that has rocked the UK today: the European Referendum.

Most people will know by now that the UK voted to leave the European Union yesterday, with millions of Britons waking up to the news this morning. There are both pros and cons resulting from this decision. 150302-Impact-Brexit-Barometer.jpgFactors such as the economy, trade and immigration were most widely focussed on in the media and political discussions. One of my main concerns, however, was the environment, and with many of our environmental targets set by the EU I am worried about the consequences for the environment with this referendum result.

Indications are that environmental protection will now become weaker. The most immediate impact of leaving the EU was clear this morning, with the financial markets crashing. Becoming “green” does not come for free, money is required to develop technology and investments are needed to put methods into practise.

One of the European Union’s greatest, yet somewhat understated, achievements have been the environmental issues it has tackled. These include controlling air and water pollution and protecting endangered species. warning-suspected-pollution-incident-sea.pngThe EU also sets targets for renewable energy, not only allowing this industry to grow, but helping reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Other initiatives include cleaning up sewage on beaches; the water of many was deemed too dirty to swim in, in the 1980s. After legal action from the EU, 99% of the UK’s beaches are now deemed safe for swimming.

The EU Renewable Energy Directive set a target for 20% of the EU’s energy to be renewable by 2020. The UK already showed signs of being reluctant to commit to this, resulting in an individual target for the UK of 15% of energy being renewable. Additionally, the UK consistently falls short of other targets set by the EU. For example, 40,000 people die prematurely in the UK from air pollution and dozens of cities in Britain are failing to meet air pollution targets. The government admitted that London, Leeds and Birmingham will not meet the set targets by at least 2030, which is 20 years later than the original target set by the EU.

The EU places quotas on fishing catch and bycatch. Without these quotas, the seas around the UK could be fished in an uncontrolled manner until there is nothing left. The short term vision is that a lift of these quotas will allow fishermen to sell a higher quantity of fish, and more valuable fish such as tuna, therefore increasing their income and boosting the industry. In the long run, however, fish stocks will collapse, so the benefit will be short lived. Take a look at my blog “Overfished and Underloved” for more information on overfishing.

The laws passed through the EU will still apply to the UK once we leave, however our parliament now has the power to change them. It would also depend on whether we remain in the Europe
an Economic Area (EEA). If we remain within the EEA, most environmental laws, other than the Bathing Water Directive, would still apply. Whether laws will be changed is yet to be seen, however cutting funding for environmental protection may be seen as an easy way for the future govetractor.jpgrnment to save money.

On the other hand, leaving the EU gives us more control over the environmental protection laws passed. This may mean that we can fine-tune them to be more specific for the UK’s individual requirements and could allow us to spend allocated money more effectively. The EU has also passed a moratorium on the use of genetically modified crops. This is a whole debate in itself, however the restriction of use may be leaving us vulnerable to crop diseases which may otherwise be prevented.

I have my doubts over whether effective laws will be passed to protect the environment and whether the UK will continue its efforts to reach current targets in the wake of this decision.

 

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