Protecting our natural environment

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The greatest legacy we can bequeath to future generations is not only a clean, green earth but also national recognition that a strong economy and society are dependent on environmental sustainability.

Protecting the natural environment and fighting climate change are not issues that any country can tackle alone. European leadership has shown that joint action helps to protect our most valuable assets.

Many Leave campaigners realised the significance of these issues and argued that leaving the EU would produce “better outcomes for our environment”. With prominent climate change sceptics amongst those who campaigned for leave, however, we want strong reassurances that the green agenda will now not be downgraded. 

Leading on climate change

It is welcome news that the Government has now ratified the Paris agreement. But to meet its demanding target, and to remove uncertainty about the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change in the future, the government should clearly reaffirm its commitment to meeting all existing climate and renewables targets, before then stretching them to levels necessary to meet the Paris target. The UK should also seek to continue close cooperation with European partners in climate negotiations moving forward, including through the EU emissions trading system.

Matching European protections

The UK should continue to be a leader in Europe and in the world on environmental protection by committing to preserving the protections to which we are currently committed as a member of the EU, which should continue to be applied in UK law. The Government has committed to transposing EU law into domestic law, but only where “practical” and only until they have decided whether they are necessary in the long term. This leaves significant uncertainty for environmental protections, which may fall victim to trade deals or de-prioritisation during the negotiation process.

We must maintain and strengthen regulations which have benefited our environment. Specifically, this means committing to regulations that ensure the protection of species and habitats, and the cleanliness of oceans, rivers and lakes. It means ensuring conservation areas in Britain are legally protected post-Brexit, and it means ensuring flood defences don’t lose out after EU funding disappears. It also means continuing to follow the EU-wide arrangements that enable the UK to meet its carbon targets, such as the EU’s product and fuel efficiency standards and the emissions trading system (ETS). In the case of the ETS, the government should agree to long-term participation now in order to give business certainty, and it should seek to negotiate a role within negotiations for the next phase of the scheme. The government should consider carefully the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendation of a new Environmental Protection Act, ensuring that current legal protections are fully transposed and that the UK has an equivalent or better level of environmental protection as the EU.

The UK’s world-leading climate and environment experts should be consulted on how these measures could be strengthened, so they act as a baseline from which to build.

Retaining Influence over Regulations

The UK must seek to retain influence over environmental regulations set at EU level. Few want to see a race to the bottom with companies jettisoning high environmental standards. Equally, we do not want to hand control to European partners to set regulations that we would be compelled to adopt since this would hand their industries a competitive advantage. It makes sense, therefore, to seek continued collaborative decision-making wherever 

Supporting Farming and Fishing

Leaving the Single Market and Customs Union would risk tariffs on UK exports, with even EEA countries facing tariffs on agricultural products. Such tariffs could have a potentially devastating impact on farms, which operate under very tight margins. Leaving the Customs Union could also leave UK exports subject to rigorous customs checks, which would place an additional burden on food producers. The presidents of the four UK farming unions have called for “full, unfettered access to the Single Market”.

Farms, fisheries, and other food producers are also reliant on migrant labour from the EU. The Food and Drink Federation has said that 100,000 workers in the industry are currently EU citizens, and has warned that the industry faces a staff shortfall of 130,000 in the next 10 years even without the migration restrictions that may result from Brexit.

The Government should act to improve UK food security, ensuring UK-produced food is affordable, widely available and produced in a safe and sustainable way.  The government should have three priorities in this area. First, it must guarantee that there will not be tariffs on agricultural products and that any decision to leave the Customs Union will not lead to new regulatory burdens. It must urgently set out its clear plans for replacement of the common agricultural and common fisheries policies in the longer term. Agricultural policy could be used to boost biodiversity, wildlife habitats and waterways, while also continuing to ensure that UK farming continues to get the support it needs. Fisheries policy could be used to promote more sustainable fishing.