Brexit will be a pivotal moment for the UK’s environment

GreenerUK_Twitter_1.jpgYesterday MPs voted to support the government’s plan to start formal Brexit talks by the end of March next year. As the UK edges closer to leaving the European Union, the government now faces a critical choice on the future of our environment protections.

An estimated 80 per cent of the UK’s environmental legislation was developed with Europe, so the UK’s vote to leave the EU inevitably places a question mark over nearly all of our environmental protections. From policies that ensure our air and water are clean and protect our special wildlife, to those that keep us safe from exposure to toxic chemicals at work, a place will be needed for these protections in the UK’s future policy framework outside the EU.

We are, therefore, at a pivotal moment. If we get it wrong, we could see by far the biggest setback yet for the future well-being of our environment and all of us that benefit from it. But if we get it right, we can avoid that, improve on the current protections and begin to restore and even enhance our natural world.

Making sure we get it right
The public want the government to get it right. A recent YouGov poll has revealed that four in every five British adults think we should have the same or stronger environmental protection after we leave the EU.

That’s why we have come together with 12 of the UK’s other major environmental organisations, in a collaboration the UK has never seen before. The new coalition, Greener UK, which includes organisations with a combined membership of 7.9 million, will be watching the Great Repeal Bill very closely to make sure it doesn’t open up any gaps in current environmental protections and, as new legislation is formed, we will be looking for ways to build on them.

This year’s State of Nature report revealed the insidious and alarming loss of biodiversity in this country: 15 per cent of our native species are under threat of extinction, and 53 per cent are in decline. And 2016, for all its other surprises, has also been the year to break climate records and pass a tipping point for atmospheric carbon. So this is a window of opportunity we cannot miss.

We’re not alone in this belief: 145 MPs from across the political spectrum and across the UK have so far signed Greener UK’s Pledge for the Environment, committing to support the UK in becoming a world leader on the environment.

Outside of the Brexit debate, this government has shown some early signs of leadership in this area: ratifying the Paris climate agreement and making global commitments on marine protection. But although there have been some welcome warm words from Brexit minister Robin Walker about putting Britain “at the vanguard of tackling global environmental challenges”, the government is yet to say what leaving the EU will mean for this. On the other hand, Secretary of State David Davis has promised “firmly and unequivocally” that employment rights will not be eroded during Brexit. We urgently need an equivalent, explicit reassurance for the environment.

The need for strong government commitment
Now is the time for the prime minister to respond to what four in every five people and 145 MPs are saying and state her commitment to maintaining the UK’s environmental protections. The newly promised Brexit plan is the ideal opportunity to do this.

And, while we should continue to collaborate with our European neighbours where there’s a clear mutual interest and environmental benefit, we should also establish world class environmental governance here in the UK. Those looking back at the end of this century will judge our leaders now by how they chose to respond at this crucial turning point.

More MPs are signing the Pledge for the Environment every day. If you can’t see your MP on the list you can still ask them to sign. For more information go to The Climate Coalition

If you are an MP, and are interested in signing, please email:

Why we should care more about the environmental impact of nutrients

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Little has happened since in the UK. But last month I was asked to present Green Alliance’s policy principles to a conference of Nordic countries in Malmo, and to discuss how to take the agenda forward. I discovered that the ideas remain relevant and useful.  Read more

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Over centuries our communities have developed around rivers, to ensure easy access to water for use by populations, industry and for navigation. At the same time, landowners have straightened and dredged rivers, drained their land and removed natural features, aiming to raise agricultural output and get excess water away downstream as quickly as possible. But, in recent years, we have seen time and again the enormous cost of too much water at once flowing into our heavily populated floodplains, despite the billions spent by the government on flood defences. Read more

Dispatch from Marrakech: determination to succeed, despite shadows on the horizon

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Walking past the huge US pavilion in the climate village it is difficult to imagine that, next year, the US will not be participating. Read more

What the government can learn from Jaguar Land Rover about staying competitive

Thijaguar-xe-3_paul-gravestock_flickrs post first appeared on BusinessGreen.

The government’s hasty commitment to shield the automotive industry from the worst effects of Brexit demonstrates two things: the political importance of the car industry and the challenge that the industry faces in a post-Brexit UK. Tariff-free access to the single market is important for complex manufacturing, but it won’t make British industry any more competitive on its own. So what else can the government do? One thing would be to scale up a proven strategy and work with businesses to increase resource productivity.

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Why the Treasury should go for low carbon infrastructure, regardless of climate change

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It was George Osborne who, festooned with hard hat and high vis, proclaimed that ‘we are the builders.’ He looked a bit silly, but his message was serious. Building things is what real people do; it’s where real economic growth happens; and it’s a real investment in our shared future. Osborne invented the line, but it is Theresa May who is doing the building. As the BBC’s business editor put it, “from beating ourselves up for not being able to build anything, the UK is suddenly building everything.” Well, almost everything. Read more

What’s wrong with government renewables support and how to get it right

Wind Turbines for Generation of Renewable Energy in the Countryside of EnglandFive years since the establishment of the levy control framework (LCF), the government’s main tool to manage spending on clean energy, the National Audit Office (NAO) has provided some useful insights into its performance to date. While media coverage jumped to highlight its most negative claim, that renewables will cost households £17 more than planned in 2020, it failed to report the rest of the story: that energy bills overall will actually be lower in 2020, by an average of £38.

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