Whether you voted to remain or to leave, the results are in and there are still many people across the UK in a state of shock. The repercussions look like they are going to be affecting us for some considerable time to come. With talk of trying to force a second referendum, Scotland threatening to veto the exit from the EU and both Labour and Conservative parties in total turmoil. However, we need to keep our focus on the environmental aspects of being part of the EU and of leaving it – the EU has had a massive impact on our environmental policies over the years. How and when we will end up in or out of the EU is still not clear. However, we must try to avoid taking any retrograde steps such as tearing up all the EU environmental policies and undoing the good work that has been done.
The Friends of the Earth were major campaigners for the ‘remain’ vote, basing their standpoint on the sensible idea that pollution is no respecter of national boundaries. Their view was (and is) that it is impossible to solve major environmental issues locally – the only real way forward is for whole countries to work together to solve them. In fact, roughly 70% of our own environmental legislation was actually driven by the EU. Much of this legislation was branded ‘red tape’ during the referendum campaign, but the reality is that if we hadn’t been forced by EU legislation to put in place many of our own environmental controls, our relatively small country would have been more polluted and we would have been recycling far fewer materials.
Impact on the young
Overall, the result of the referendum was 52% in favour of leaving the EU, so that was a majority decision, however, analysis of voting patterns indicates that in the youngest age group of 18 to 25 years old, 70% voted to remain. This is the generation that will have to live with the consequences of Brexit for the longest time, and if we choose to sweep away the so called ‘red tape’ of environmental legislation, this age group may be forced to live with increased air pollution, catastrophic flooding, loss of green spaces and many other environmental issues.
We need to continue working together
Leaving the EU doesn’t necessarily mean that we will no longer be able to work with other European countries on environmental issues, it will probably just be harder in the short term as a lack of trust has developed, mainly due to some of the negative campaigning that happened before the referendum. Some of the UK’s environmental policies, such as the UK Climate Change Act (2008), are regarded as world-class, and in many ways we have greatly cleaned up our act. In fact, within my own lifetime, I can remember us being known as the ‘dirty man of Europe’. We certainly don’t want to go back to the time when smog used to be a problem in our cities, but if we want to try to fight climate change (which is blamed for the majority of the extreme weather and flooding that we have seen over the past few years), we need to continue to co-operate with our EU neighbours, even if we are no longer members of the EU club – let’s hope we can achieve that!