Something rarely mentioned within the political back and forth of the IN and OUT campaigns is the consequences for the environment.
The EU is far from perfect, and yes there is much that can be improved. The Common Agriculture Policy, for example, has consistently prioritised large agribusiness and industrial farming over more sustainable approaches. The Common Fisheries Policy has been historically characterised by unsustainable fishing practices, although the 2013 reform has made steps towards addressing the issue. Furthermore trade initiatives, such as TTIP, threaten to undermine the EU’s ability to pass effective pro-environment laws in the future.
One option, after leaving the EU, would be for the UK to join the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA currently includes Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. In order to enjoy preferential access to the Single European Market these states are required to abide by the rules and regulations governing the operation of the single market. However they do not have a recognised say in how these rules are created. Therefore, even if the UK left the EU, it would still be reliant upon other economic mechanisms that involve European countries, for our own trade’s sake, we just would have far less of an input into how they are run! Sound ridiculously illogical yet? Well, keep reading.
EEA members are required to abide by many environmental rules, but there are some notable and important exceptions.
If the UK was to become a member of the EEA it would no longer be required to enact the following EU directives:
- protecting birds
- protecting animal habitats
- aspects of the water framework directive
It is of course possible that the government would prioritise environmental protection and international cooperation in these areas upon exit. However, the environmental record of the current government (PDF) provides little reason to believe this would be the case- they have a habit of watering down any environmental regulation policy.
One brilliant example of this was seen in 2015, where the passing of the bill allowing fracking to take place underneath national parks, SSSIs and groundwater protection zones, signalled a reversal of an earlier agreement in which fracking was banned across all national parks under the coalition government. The Conservative government as it stands does not often practice the act of putting the environment at the forefront of the political or economic agenda.
For example, the UK government has recently:
- sought to block strict rules limiting imports of tar sand oil at the European level
- tried to water down the EU energy efficiency directive
- successfully blocked the adoption of binding national renewables targets for 2030 (despite its recent commitment to the COP21 agenda)
- threatened to block an EU pesticide ban protecting bees
- has pushed for a weakening of habitats laws at the European level.
However, these potential negative impacts would be tempered by the likelihood that we will have to maintain some of the same EU rules in order to sell products within the EU. Although, if TTIP got its way…
Since 1900, the UK has lost 20 species of bee. A further 35 bee species are considered to be under threat of extinction.
Across Europe nearly 1 in 10 wild bee species are under threat. It’s a shared problem.
There are several causes of bee decline: loss of habitat, use of pesticides, spread of pests and diseases, and climate change.
What is the EU doing to help protect bees from harmful pesticides?
In 2013 a majority of EU member states voted to restrict the use of 3 pesticides – known as neonicotinoids. The vote followed a report by EU scientists which revealed a high risk of harm to honey bees when neonicotinoids are used on crops attractive to them.
A little bit on neonics and why we should care
Insect pollination is crucial to many crops. It enhances oilseed rape yields – and has also been found to increase the value of two British apple varieties by £37m a year . New research suggests neonicotinoids could be damaging food production. Apples pollinated by bumblebees exposed to neonicotinoids contained fewer pips, indicating lower quality than those pollinated by bumblebees not exposed to neonicotinoids.More importantly, the presence of such chemicals have been attributed to many health issues including breast cancer (Caron-Beaudoin and Sanderson, 2016).
Theoretically, the UK government could maintain the ban on these bee-harming pesticides outside of the EU.
And theoretically European members states could collectively vote to repeal the restrictions.
We’re campaigning to ensure that, in or out, they don’t come back. But without the EU, the restrictions wouldn’t have been introduced in the first place.
So far our membership of the EU has protected bees from harmful pesticides. Those in favour of Brexit are yet to show that bees would be safer
EU and protections for Nature
We’ve lost 60% of our plant and animal species over the past 50 years.
These are only the species we know about. We could also be losing species we haven’t yet discovered.
However, EU laws – like the Nature Directives – are helping to protect and re-establish UK nature
Before the Directives, we were losing 15% of our protected sites a year. Now it’s down to 1%.
Nature doesn’t recognise national borders. It runs through, over and in some cases under them.
It’s impossible to get our plant and animal species thriving without working with other countries in the European Union.
If we exited the EU, many of our much-loved nature sites would no longer be protected by the Nature Directives. We’d be left with notably weaker national protections. Environmental issues rarely take into account national and political borders. Issues such as climate change, air pollution, water pollution and management of nature can only be dealt with effectively when countries work together.
George Osborne has attacked laws protecting nature, claiming that wildlife protection rules are “placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.” Well, Mr. Osborne, when will you and your politician friends learn, WE CANNOT EAT MONEY.
References (not already hyperlinked in text):
- Caron-Beaudoin, E. and Sanderson, J.T., 2016. Effects of neonicotinoids on promoter-specific expression and activity of aromatase: implications for the development of hormone-dependent breast cancer. Cancer Cell & Microenvironment, 3(2).