Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

The EU referendum and the UK environment

The EU referendum and the UK environment Baloncici
11 Apr
At the launch of an independent report on the environmental impacts of the EU referendum, Geographical collects perspectives from key environmental charities and academics

Earlier this week, environmental charity leaders and academics gathered in Westminster for the launch of an independent report on environmental scenarios after the EU referendum. Representatives from the Wildlife Trust, the Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Aldersgate Group and the Green Alliance, took part in a discussion panel, explaining their positions and projections for environmental policy after June.

‘On 23 June, voters are going to get a once-in-a-generation opportunity to decide whether to remain or to leave,’ said Andrew Jordan, Professor of Environmental Politics at the University of East Anglia and a lead author of the report. ‘The stakes are particularly high in a mature area such as environment. At a very fundamental level, voters are asking whether existing standards are going to go up or down.’

Dr Charlotte Burns, a fellow lead author of the report and expert of EU environmental policy at the University of York said ‘our report, alongside the Institute for European Environmental Policy report and the upcoming Environmental Audit Committee report, will hopefully constitute a factual evidence base, on which those concerned about the environment can choose wisely.’ At the report’s launch, Geographical gathered key statements from the panel of environmental charity and business representatives.

Philip Rothwell, Head of Corporate and Public Affairs, The Wildlife Trust

It is expected that the UK’s Wildlife and Countryside Act would step in for the environment should we leave the EU. Although the act has been built up over many years, it has failed in some respects for two major reasons. One is that governments have never funded it effectively enough to implement its legislation. Secondly, it relies on money from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – the EU policy for agriculture. So the money for management of special sites protected by our domestic wildlife legislation may disappear or be replaced depending on how you look at the future. It is not that domestic legislation is intrinsically bad, we all think it could work a lot better. The main issue is funding, and the real risk if we were to leave the EU would be an indirect loss of management for these sites.

I would say that when you compare it to European legislation – which has long-term certainties, a funding base, international co-operation and a judicial base that we can rely upon when things go wrong – there are standards that are not present in domestic legislation. Europe has provided us with a certainty and longevity of legislation that would not continue if left to our own domestic devices.

We think this whole debate is fundamental to the future of British wildlife. Of course, there are lots of different reasons for voting , however in terms of wildlife, I should make it entirely clear that we are better off in the EU.

discardSmall Scottish fishing vessel on the North Sea (Image: stanalex)

Melissa Moore, Head of Policy, Marine Conservation Society

We at the Marine Conservation Society agree that, although the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was a failure, it has now been radically improved. There is now commitment for fisheries to be sustainable by 2020, to end the practice of discarding and to decentralise fisheries management. So we now have the support for the CFP, we just need to see it implemented.

A common question is if we were to leave the EU, would we regain some of our fishing rights? The right of foreign vessels to fish in British waters and for British boats to fish in others may be the subject of renegotiation. At present, we do pretty well. We are allocated 30 per cent of the EU quota, the second-largest after Spain, despite the fact that the UK only makes up 13 per cent of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, the outcome of those renegotiations are highly uncertain – the UK could regain some fishing grounds for quotas but loose others.

Overall, the MCS believe that the EU regulation has been very good for marine conservation. We have serious concerns that the decision to exit the EU would affect the ability to achieve our objectives through changes or loss to EU legislation around water quality, bathing water and CFP. We have serous concerns for our charity.

swallowEuropean swallows annually cross national boundaries in their thousands to winter in Africa and breed in Europe (Image: Drakuliren)

Mike Clarke, Chief Executive, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

We are not prejudging the debate that needs to be had. For the last 100 years as a charity we have been involved in arguing for international cooperation that has substance. The issue for us becomes, how can we get trans-boundary agreements?

There are global agreements such as the Bonn Convention of Migratory species. There are measures such as the East Asian-Australasian flyway; there are developments in East Africa where international discussion is strengthening; and of course the Migratory Birds Treaty has a lot of bearing on the domestic legislation in the US. The question for us is what kind of architecture would we put in place if we were to come out [of the EU]? It will have to be looked at in the rounds, it is not a case of picking off individual trade issues, there needs to be a much broader body of agreements. For now, it’s hard to see how the benefits approved under quite a sophisticated set of agreements may be maintained, but it is possible. The EU is not an ends – as far as a wildlife charity is concerned – it is a means to provide those kinds of international agreements.

However, it is worth remembering that globally the single biggest drive of biodiversity decline is agriculture. This is a phenomenon we share with the continent. Undoubtedly, mechanisms that already exist within the CAP architecture mitigate those impacts and I think it’s certainly fair to say measures such as agriculture/environment schemes over the last 20 years or so have had some improvement. Nonetheless, in or out, without reform of the CAP agenda by 2020, it is unlikely that we will be able to reverse the trajectory for our declining biodiversity. That has to be addressed.

From a nature conservation perspective, we have no prior argument on whether there should be direct support from CAP or not. However, coming out of the EU would introduce further complications in terms of setting up the policy architecture that enables appropriate changes to take place.

I have to make clear that this decision is fundamentally important for our charity objective and also that the EU has led to some very positive steps. The question is what would be put in place, as well as how Europe will address the major issue of agriculture. I have to say I am extremely disappointed at the degree in which the environment has featured in the debate at all, and within that debate, answers to what kind of architecture would be put in place. It is essential to ensure that the international cooperation that we do have is maintained.

timberTimber stack in the Brecon Beacons, Wales (Image: Martin Fowler)

Nick Molho, Executive Director, the Aldersgate Group

When we ask our corporate members what they make of EU environmental legislation, they find it has positive impacts on business on the whole. First of all, the common environmental rules set a fixed standard of legislation across the single market, creating a level playing field for business. This is particularly important for our corporate members who are involved in infrastructure and development, as well as ICT, retail, food and those who operate across the member states. They know that their competitors have to comply with similar rules and a knock-on side effect is that it reduces the overall compliance costs. Secondly, the standards have created a market of opportunities for business. When you can comply with environment and product standards it sends a clear signal that you as a business can innovate and develop a product to this standard. As a business, the single market and consumer base is open to you. That also increases consumer confidence in the market as well as the quality of the products allowed into it.

It is very difficult to tackle the environmental or sustainability challenge through one business, or even one government alone. Most markets and most businesses tend to stretch beyond national borders and operate on a regional, if not global, basis. Timber is a good example of this. Timber is essential for businesses such as Ikea and Kingfisher and the demand for timber is set to triple between now and 2050. The EU timber regulations are not perfect but have improved the situation. They create a framework whereby the sourcing of timber now has to be sustainable and has to comply a much stricter range of metric towards more efficient use of resources.

We think we would be better in than out and we say that not from just a environmental angle, but a business angle as well. There needs to be some improvements to the effectiveness of the EU regulations. That being said, we are better placed to be able to affect and deliver those improvements if we are in ‘the inner core’ of EU than if we sit outside it.

Matthew Spencer, Director, the Green Alliance

Green Alliance is making a case for staying in. It is the first time we have taken a position on a national vote in our 37 years and we cannot conceive of sustainable development being possible without a process of being able to negotiate and collaborate with our neighbours. If we can’t do it with our neighbours, we’ve got no chance of doing it with nations that are further afield.

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in UK...

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Rory Walsh savours a flavour…

Discovering Britain

For Discovering Britain this month Rory Walsh searches for the…

Discovering Britain

For Discovering Britain this month Rory Walsh visits a unique…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Rory Walsh explores the…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain Rory Walsh meets a Scottish…


England has long suffered from a North–South divide. Despite numerous…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Rory Walsh is sent…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain Rory Walsh hears how student…


In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, miners are looking to…

Discovering Britain

For Discovering Britain this month, Rory Walsh takes a Romantic…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh visits a…

Discovering Britain

For this month's Discovering Britain trail, Rory Walsh encounters a…

Discovering Britain

For this month's Discovering Britain viewpoint, Rory Walsh celebrates Steall…


Every year a group of dedicated volunteers measures the last…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail Rory Walsh dips into…

Discovering Britain

For this month's Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh takes a…

Discovering Britain

Who was John Muir? How did his views and philosophy…

Discovering Britain

For July's Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh hears about a…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain, Rory Walsh visits several places…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint Rory Walsh visits a…