Panel on the potential environmental implications of Brexit

Over 42 people attended a panel to discuss the potential environmental repercussions of Great Britain leaving the European Union last Wednesday. The panel was hosted by the non-pro t organisation 2050 Climate which is devoted to educating Scotland’s young people on climate change in an effort to create a sustainable society by 2050.

The panel was comprised of professors, MSP, and activists who all spoke about the effects of Brexit in their speci c elds, whether that be environmental law, policy, or conservationism.

Most speakers cited the main issue as the governance gap created by leaving the EU and a lack of institutional structures to replace EU environmental protection systems, such as the EU Court of Justice.

This could be a positive as it would give the UK the ability to create their own standards and goals, which could very well be more far-reaching than that of the EU, especially as it would not require all other 28 states within the EU to agree to follow the same policy. However, there is no guarantee of this occurring.

Leaving the EU also leaves the UK with no existing system of accountability to ensure that the British government follows through on said policies. Further, the UK served as a leader within the EU in regards to championing environmental policy, therefore the EU might be regress to less stringent policies in terms of climate change.

“What it means is a change in some of the underlying structure, the underlying architecture of environmental law in the country. Because being in the EU has given us a number of things,” Colin Reid, a professor of environmental law of the University of Dundee said. “You’ve got that whole architecture of governance that is going to disappear and the question is what’s going to take the place of it, and particularly how are we going to make sure that the government is held accountable for the promises that its made?”

MSP Maurice Golden of the Scottish Conservatives discussed possible governmental solutions to aid in saving the environment, independent of Brexit. Citing the main problem as the tendency over consume. He suggested the MSP implemented policies to create a more circular economy, keeping resources in the economy for as long as you can.

“Ultimately, we design for obsolescence. When producers are designing things, they design them so they are made to break and you need to buy a new one…these products are designed to be put out, so you’ve got to use resources. And the costs of those resources are really really dangerous,” Golden said.

When asked about the potential effect of Brexit on implementing such policy, Golden answered he didn’t believe Brexit wouldn’t particularly help or hinder implementing these policies, though he noted the biggest threat towards enacting such policies would be an economic shock or recession which would prevent policy from being enacted.

The panel also invited Lord Peter Lilley of the Conservative Party, who argued that by leaving the EU, the UK would be able to do more for climate change than whilst in the EU by pushing the EU even farther when making environmental protection legislation.

For example, in the EU’s effort to reduce total greenhouse gas emission, the UK offered to reduce its own emissions by 57 per cent despite the fact that the EU’s total goal was to reduce emissions by 47 per cent. However, if the UK leaves the EU, the remaining countries in the EU would have to increase their own emissions cuts in order hit the desired average goal.

However, Isobel Mercer, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reminded the attendees that even if the UK does leave the EU, it will still have to share an environment with the rest of Europe. Leaving the EU would complicate international processes and protecting animals that seasonally migrate from one country to another.

“I’m essentially saying that nature crosses borders, we have migration issues that move from one European state to another, air emissions, invasive non-native species, and waterways, river and sees all cross borders. Because of this, it’s necessitated a cross border, trans-boundary, collective and coordinated approach,” Mercer said. “That will continue to still be necessary whether or not the UK belongs to the EU political entity, we will continue to exist in that shared geographical environment.”


Image: Andrew Perry

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