Greener UK coalition warns government is not making sufficient progress in ensuring the environment is safeguarded post-Brexit
A coalition of 13 environmental NGOs will today warn concerns are escalating over the government’s ability to deliver its promise of a “green Brexit”.
The Greener UK coalition, which includes the RSPB, Greenpeace, and the National Trust, is to publish its quarterly Brexit Risk Tracker, warning that the risks faced by the environment as a result of the Brexit progress have increased in recent months.
The report awards a traffic-light rating across eight environmental areas: air quality, chemicals regulations, climate policy, farming, fisheries, nature, waste, and water.
None of the areas was awarded a green rating, and three – air, chemicals, and waste – received a red rating.
The ratings for climate and waste policy have worsened over the past three months, after green groups failed to secure sufficient assurances that the government will retain or strengthen policies post-Brexit.
The report is based on the government’s Withdrawal Bill, position papers, and speeches and briefings from Ministers, which have left environmental campaigners and businesses concerned that insufficient legal safeguards will be put in place through the Brexit process to ensure environmental protections remain robust and effective.
“Our environment could be worse off the day after Brexit as the government’s EU Withdrawal Bill is missing crucial safeguards,” said Martin Harper, conservation director at RSPB, in a statement. “It does not include fundamental principles of environmental law, such as the ‘polluter pays’, and reduces our ability to challenge government on enforcing environmental laws. We’re raising a red flag now in the hope the government will listen to our concerns and take action to address them.”
Shaun Spiers, executive director at Green Alliance and chair of the Greener UK coalition, said there were some causes for optimism to be found in Theresa May’s recent insistence the UK would not seek to water down environmental standards.
“In her speech in Florence, Theresa May was rightly resolute in emphasising the UK’s commitment to high environmental standards,” he said. “The Prime Minister identified tackling climate change as something we must continue to do in partnership with our European neighbours.”
May’s comments reinforce Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s pledge to deliver a “green Brexit” and drive through post-Brexit reforms to the agricultural and fisheries policy that would benefit the environment.
But Spiers said the commitment to maintain and strengthen environmental standards now had to be formally adopted in the Withdrawal Bill and the government’s wider Brexit strategy.
“These ambitions must flow through the government’s Brexit plans,” he said. “Climate change was completely absent from the government’s recent position paper on foreign policy. We are also concerned that Defra’s post-Brexit recycling plans are too weak, which is one of the reasons why waste policy received a red rating.”
Speaking to BusinessGreen, GreenerUK’s Amy Mount said the government now had a series of opportunities to reassure the environmental sector that it would deliver on its ‘green Brexit’ promises.
“My hope is this is the lowest point the tracker will get to,” she said. “We are optimistic some of the environmental amendments to the Withdrawal Bill that are being discussed will pass or the government will make changes and we are talking to government about how to resolve some of the environmental governance issues. There are a lot of amber ratings in the tracker because things could go either way.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Exiting the EU said the government remained committed to protecting the environment post-Brexit.
“Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it,” she said. “The decision to leave the European Union creates new opportunities for a Green Brexit and to enhance our environmental standards.
“The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will ensure that existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in UK law after exit. We will continue to work with countries across the EU to improve and protect our precious environment.”
The report comes a day after the latest round of Brexit negotiations came to a close in Brussels with both sides insisting some progress had been made.
Brexit Secretary David Davis declared that some “decisive steps forward” had been taken following May’s request for a transition period and indication the UK would continue to make contributions to the EU budget during that period.
However, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said it could be “weeks or months” before sufficient progress is made on the key initial issues of the ‘divorce bill’, EU citizens’ rights, and the Irish border.
Meanwhile, the CBI and TUC yesterday issued a rare joint statement calling on the government to urgently guarantee EU citizens’ rights.
Privately, many green business leaders and environmental campaigners remain hugely concerned about the potential impact of Brexit on the green economy, with insiders fearing the UK currently lacks the institutions required to enforce or enact EU environmental rules and policies. There are also fears a post-Brexit government could use the sweeping powers contained in the Withdrawal Bill to axe or dilute environmental policies.