Brexit vote causes anxiety about weakening of UK environmental regulation
In the wake of the Brexit vote, there has been speculation about the effect of the UK leaving the EU on environmental regulations. The lawyers, ClientEarth, fear that environmental protections may be weakened, and ask politicians of all parties “to affirm their commitment to strong UK environmental laws and to guarantee united action on climate change, despite our upcoming exit from the EU.” Client Earth says many of the laws they use to ensure that nature and health are protected in Britain were drawn up with the UK’s agreement in Brussels. During the referendum campaign, no one made clear which environmental laws would be kept. ClientEarth have taken action on air pollution, but Brexit could mean air quality laws, with which the UK has failed to comply, could be weakened or scrapped. Taking action through the courts may be harder. Some of the key legislation for aviation has been developed at a national level, independently of the EU, most notably the Climate Change Act (2008). Maintaining full access to the Single Market may, in any case, require the UK to demonstrate compliance with EU environmental legislation, including having to abide by the Environmental Noise Directive and Ambient Air Quality Directive. Brussels-based green NGOs have urged the European Commission to push on with its 2030 climate legislation – despite the uncertainty in the wake of the UK Brexit vote.
Brexit “challenge” to politicians over UK environmental laws
Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have expressed “shock and concern” at the outcome of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
The not-for-profit organisation – which has offices in London, Brussels and Warsaw – regularly uses EU laws to challenge governments across Europe on a wide range of issues, including air quality, nature, wildlife, toxics and transparency.
CEO James Thornton said: “Voters have made their views known on Britain’s future out of Europe. We respect that democratic decision of course, but it leaves me shocked, disappointed and extremely concerned about the future of environmental protections in the UK.
“Today, therefore I challenge politicians of all parties to affirm their commitment to strong UK environmental laws and to guarantee united action on climate change, despite our upcoming exit from the EU.
“Many of the laws which my organisation uses to ensure that nature and health are protected in Britain were drawn up with the UK’s agreement in Brussels.
Call for politicians to maintain protections
“Now as the UK prepares to go it alone, we have no idea which laws will be retained since those who campaigned for Brexit did not have a united position. They failed to make clear during the campaign which environmental laws would be kept. We therefore call upon all parties to promise to maintain existing protections.”
ClientEarth campaigned against Britain leaving the EU because of the impact it would have on the environment and because of the importance of united action on issues such as pollution and climate change, which do not respect international borders.
Brexit means that air quality laws, with which the UK has failed to comply, could be weakened or scrapped.
ClientEarth won its case at the Supreme Court last year when ministers were ordered to draw up new anti-pollution plans to ensure compliance with EU laws. A renewed challenge on that is due to be heard at the High Court in October.
Weak laws would be a catastrophe
Vital birds and habitats directives, bathing water and waste water regulations could also be scrapped or weakened.
James Thornton added: “We will consider what changes we need to make as an organisation, but London is our international headquarters.
“We will use the months and years ahead to urge the UK government to live up to the EU laws which are currently on the statute books. Anything which weakens those laws would be a catastrophe for Britain’s environment.”
What does Brexit mean for AEF’s work?
Nearly two weeks ago, the UK was in shock following the result of the EU referendum, with 52% of the UK public voting to leave the European Union. There are still major uncertainties for the UK ahead but here we take a look at the reaction of the industry and NGOs, and at some of the changes to the political landscape, to try to gain an understanding of what leaving the European Union could mean for our work.
What does Brexit mean for the aviation industry?
The predicted economic impacts of Brexit have left the future of the UK’s aviation market now looking quite different from the world imagined when the Airports Commission undertook its assessments. The pound has fallen significantly in value and the last time this happened (during the 2008 recession), the number of air passengers decreased considerably as people cut down on flying. Preliminary estimates by the airline association, IATA, suggest that “the number of UK air passengers could be 3-5% lower by 2020, driven by the expected downturn in economic activity and the fall in the sterling exchange rate. The near-term impact on the UK air freight market is less certain, but freight will be affected by lower international trade in the longer term.”
Flights to and from the EU are, meanwhile, an important and significant component of the UK’s aviation industry. The EU is easily the single biggest destination market from the UK, according to IATA, accounting for 49% of passengers and 54% of scheduled commercial flights. EU countries account for the majority of UK holiday destinations, with 76% of UK holidays being taken in the EU. In addition, 68% of business visits from the UK are to EU countries, and 73% of business visitors to the UK are from EU countries. Whether or not all these flights will be sustained in the future depends on the UK’s relationship with the EU after Brexit, especially if there is a restriction imposed on the free movement of people into and out of the UK.
There already seems to be concern in the industry about what could happen to the UK aviation market, with EasyJet suggesting it could move its headquarters from the UK.
What does Brexit mean for airport expansion?
The Brexit vote and subsequent Prime Minister’s resignation have led to a delay in the Government’s decision on airport expansion. The leading candidate to succeed David Cameron, Theresa May, has a constituency near Heathrow but has recently been quiet on the subject of Heathrow expansion.
Brexit may be used by proponents of expansion to up the pressure for a favourable decision. Sir Howard Davies, former chair of the Airports Commission, made the case on the Today Programme, for example, for a decision to be made ‘as soon as possible’ to counter the impression that the UK is ‘turning in on itself’. Given the industry assessments anticipating a significant and long-term impact on passenger growth, however, the demand case for a new a new South East runway surely needs reviewing.
How will Brexit affect environmental legislation?
There’s been much early analysis of what Brexit could mean for environmental protection in the UK (since many regulations were agreed in Brussels), and for the UK’s leadership on climate change, including this very good assessment by Dr Charlotte Burns of the University of York for Friends of the Earth, in July 2015.
Some of the key legislation for aviation has been developed at a national level, independently of the EU, most notably the Climate Change Act. Maintaining full access to the Single Market may, in any case, require the UK to demonstrate compliance with EU environmental legislation,including having to abide by the Environmental Noise Directive and Ambient Air Quality Directive.
However, Client Earth have indicated that while its on-going court case against the UK Government for air pollution breaches won’t be affected, it may be harder for future cases to be enforced through the courts after Brexit.
Amid the current uncertainty about the implications of Brexit, AEF will be continuing to campaign for the protection of public health and for effective climate change policy, whether that comes from the EU or the UK. And we will continue to make the case for the Government’s decisions about aviation and airports to be consistent with these policies, and based on up-to-date environmental evidence.
Brexit ‘the greatest political threat to the environment in the UK’
4 April 2016 (Client Earth)
“Brexit is the most dangerous political threat to the environment that we face in the UK,” environmental lawyer James Thornton has warned today.
Speaking to the Guardian, the ClientEarth CEO explained that membership of the EU has positively influenced the way the UK approaches decisions that affect the environment. Experience shows, meanwhile, that when left to its own devices the UK does not choose paths that are good for nature.
He argues that those politicians who want to leave the EU because it imposes rules on the UK fail to recognise those regulations offer necessary protection for the environment. Removing the requirements of EU law seriously diminishes protections for our seas, our air and habitats in the UK and across the globe.
Brexit and environment: EU laws need better enforcement
James holds up the UK’s failure to tackle air pollution blighting its towns and cities as evidence of the need for EU oversight.
“If you have a country in which the government is clearly happy to let 40,000 people a year die of air pollution, we need some external guidance to help them take care of their own citizens,” he said.
James also rebuffs assertions from environment minister George Eustice that EU regulations are ‘clunky’, saying “the EU’s environmental laws are extremely well-designed. There is no doubt , however, that they should be better enforced.”
ClientEarth’s lawyers work on the implementation of a broad range of national and EU environmental laws and regulations crucial to the defence of our forests, oceans, habitats and health.
James has previously argued that that EU membership forces the UK and other EU countries to meet a better standard of protection for nature than they would otherwise reach on their own.
UK referendum must not derail EU climate policy
Brussels-based green NGOs [Transport & Environment, Carbon Market Watch, Fern, WWF European Policy Office, and the European Environmental Bureau] have urged the European Commission to push on with its 2030 climate legislation – despite the uncertainty in the wake of the UK referendum result.
The proposal for Europe’s largest climate instrument, the so-called Effort Sharing Decision (ESD), is set to be published on 20 July. Any delay would send the wrong signal and risk derailing global efforts to tackle climate change.