In a referendum fraught by debates over immigration, sovereign identity and international trade, the future of the UK’s environmental movement is uncertain to say the least. So what does that post-Brexit future look like for our environment?
The UK’s existing environmental policies are arguably much stronger than those which the EU requires of its member states. The environmental movement in British politics was strengthened by the Climate Change Act of 2008 which set the goal of reducing the UK’s net carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050, relative to 1990 levels. This goal goes above and beyond the EU’s shorter-term target of reducing member states’ emissions by at least 40% by 2030 relative to 1990. Some sources even claim that the UK will be able to achieve its carbon emission reduction goals even quicker under its own direction rather than that of the EU’s legislation.
However while the future looks bright for carbon reduction, the UK’s waste disposal could prove to be a significant weakness in the country’s efforts to become more environmentally friendly. At the time of the referendum, the UK’s capacity gap for the treatment of residual waste was approximately 10.2 million tonnes, which means that that amount of waste was exported to neighbouring countries for treatment because the UK lacks sufficient infrastructure to do so itself. This weakness in the UK’s waste treatment operations could come under threat should the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox get the “Hard Brexit” he is pushing for. This would risk the imposition of tariffs on exports of waste to the EU therefore increasing the gate fee of exported waste. This would discourage its use and most likely lead to that waste going to landfill instead (being the next cheapest option).
However, the biggest threat to British environmental commitments is the huge cut in funding we receive from the EU for climate change and environmental projects . In the EU’s current budget period, the UK is set to receive >€5.8 billion for funding environmental projects. Moreover, it’s uncertain whether or not the European Investment Bank will continue to be so generous with the UK post-Brexit as it has historically favoured EU member states. The UK has received 24% of total EIB funds for renewable energy projects since 2007 but that generosity could soon be jeopardised.
However, its not all doom and gloom, with the UK’s divorce from the EU comes the opportunity to harness one of Brexit’s key slogans – sovereign independence. Although the Brexit debate was not fought for environmental reasons, now is the time for environmentalists to make the case for why environmental matters are equally, if not more important than issues like immigration. The opportunity is there to ensure that as a sovereign state, we make our own environmental decisions and invest wisely to shape environmental regulations and ambitions which supersede those of the EU. We have the opportunity to become global leaders in environmental policy and to shape our own future, so now that we’ve decided our fate to leave the EU, let’s blaze the trail to a greener UK!