A green and pleasant land… or dark satanic mills?
by Philip Cole, former European civil servant
Post Brexit, the EU wants to establish a relationship with the UK that is as close as possible – but not at any cost. The fight against climate change, halting and reversing biodiversity loss, promoting sustainable development, the environment, and major health issues are key elements of the partnership – which should also be fully conditional on respect for the Paris Agreement.
Preparedness and contingency measures need to be stepped up well ahead of the transition period, especially in the event of a stalemate in negotiations.
A level playing field: what it is and why it is important
If a football pitch slopes in one direction, one of the teams is at a distinct advantage. Is this fair? No, of course not. A ‘level playing field’ = no unfair advantage for either side.
What the UK needs to do to create the level playing field
- The UK should fully align itself with the EU’s current and future climate policy framework, and the trajectories to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, as well as the commitments made under the Paris Agreement. See No deal Brexit a disaster for climate Climate Home News, 7 August 2019
- There is concern at the UK’s draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP), which indicated that the main drivers of the UK’s energy and climate policy are carbon budgets and do not make it clear whether existing and planned policies – which only cover the transport and building sectors – are sufficient to achieve the desired results.
- The UK should implement a system of carbon pricing which at least matches the system provided for by the EU Emissions Trading System.
- The UK should help ensure that the aviation sector and maritime and road transport sectors step up their efforts to reduce emissions, and should join the EU’s efforts in establishing and enforcing a system of carbon pricing for emissions in the maritime sector.
- If the UK wants to be on the list of countries permitted to export goods to the EU that are subject to sanitary and phytosanitary measures, it will have to fully comply with EU requirements for those goods.
- The UK needs to remain dynamically aligned on pharmaceuticals, medical devices, chemicals safety legislation and REACH, in particular, in order for UK companies to continue to have access to the single market.
- The UK has failed to comply with EU air quality legislation or to achieve ‘good’ water status for natural surface water bodies, and there are serious ongoing issues in relation to nitrate pollution. The UK must implement and enforce the agreed emission limits.
- The Commission has brought a large number of infringement cases against the UK on environmental matters, including air and water quality. The UK needs to get its act together. See for instance Client Earth that took the UK government to court and won. Also see The Environment Bill: another missed opportunity for clean air Client Earth, 31 January 2020
What both sides need to do:
- As a matter of priority, increase their levels of climate and environmental protection. Protection of nature and biodiversity, via the Birds and Habitats Directives, is an essential part of the level playing field and vital for mitigating climate change.
- Increase their 2030 targets as a necessary step toward their commitment to decarbonisation by 2050.
- Ensure that the level of environmental protection is not reduced below the level applicable within the EU and the UK at the end of the transition period.
- Commit to protecting and restoring global biodiversity, through measures at national, EU and international levels, and to a global legally binding agreement with a biodiversity equivalent of the 1.5ºC target of the Paris Agreement, Other international agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) must also be respected.
- Conserve and restore terrestrial and marine ecosystems: the greatest mutual benefit can be obtained by protecting and restoring all shared ecosystems.
- Endeavour to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal production – given that antimicrobial resistance is a serious cross-border threat to human and animal health – and continue to ban their use as a growth promoter and reduce inappropriate or unnecessary human use.
- Maintain the highest standards of food safety, animal and plant health, and high-quality inspection services in those fields, and to cooperate with each other.
- Aim to reduce the use and risks of pesticides.
- Ensure that the process of redistributing nationally authorised medicinal products is concluded by the end of the transition period.
- Ensure patient safety by working towards the mutual recognition of professional qualifications to ensure the mobility of medical professionals.
- Cooperate over the long term to prevent, detect, prepare for and respond to established and emerging threats to health security, e.g. in respect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Serious threats to health – such as those due to outbreaks of infectious diseases, pandemics, or environmental factors – transcend borders.
Time to act
All EU environmental legislation currently in force is designed to make our part of the planet a healthier, safer place to live.
If we fail to extend the transition period and crash out of the EU without a sensible agreement there is a risk that the UK government will be tempted to backslide on its obligations. If that’s what you want… But if not, contact your MP NOW and ask him or her to support an extension of the transition period.
We don’t want to go back to being the Sick Man of Europe.
- The NFU mobilised a huge coalition of leading farming, environmental, animal welfare and public health organisations to write a letter to Boris Johnson on trade and standards, Letter to Prime Minister: NFU leads charge on trade and standards asks ahead of Brexit, 27 January 2020.
- Whatever happens next, a no-deal Brexit must be taken off the table. Our health and environment depend on it says Friends of the Earth. No-deal Brexit: environmental impact, 18 January 2019.