Leaving the EU: implications for the environment

by Claudia Havranek (ELP 2014), UK

With less than a month to go before the EU referendum in the UK, the impacts of the UK leaving the EU are being widely debated. The UK is gripped with a feverish obsession to dissect every aspect of EU membership, however it is likely that BREXIT (the UK leaving the EU) will have global implications. One area which would be significantly affected is the environment.

Current environmental policy within the UK is determined by EU laws and directives. The upcoming UK referendum on membership to the EU provides the opportunity to consider if BREXIT would provide the freedom to make substantial changes to the UK policy, and help progress to these targets.

The UK supports a range of biological communities, as a long island covering a range of latitudes: from temperate ancient woodland, to wild meadows, 70% of this land is used for agriculture. To protect this biodiversity, as with many nations, the UK has signed international commitments to the environment. To date however, the UK has reported limited progress towards these goals.

A large part of work towards these targets in the UK comes from subsidies to landowners, distributed by the UK government, but governed by the EU. One aspect, accounting for 40% of the EU budget, are agricultural subsidies.

Claudia.havranekFrom personal experience, fieldwork on English lowland farms would suggest that current agri-environmental schemes within the UK are relatively ineffective in improving plant diversity. If this is (as might be expected) correlated with overall biodiversity, many factors considered import for the environment by the government are in fact not. The data I am collecting goes some way in evaluating how effective, both environmentally and economically, an EU determined environmental policy is.

Conservation in functional landscapes is always going to be a contentious issue, finding compromises for the range of stakeholders. Using the example of UK agriculture, personal interviews with farmers has emphasized the general feeling of displeasure and distrust with the EU determining agricultural policy.

The results of the upcoming referendum may be of special significance as impacts may be generalised to consider if a continental scale environmental policy is more effective than a national policy. With the referendum fast approaching, the UK leaving the EU would provide a sample country to compare the efficiency of national versus continental environmental governance. Whatever the results of the referendum however, from the data we have, changes to environmental policy are needed if the UK is committed to achieving its environmental commitments is required to improve current environmental policy in the UK.

*Claudia Havranek is a 2nd year PhD candidate in Plant Sciences at Oxford University. Supervised by Dr Stephen Harris (Oxford). Funded by an Oxford-HDH Wills 1965 Charitable Trust Graduate Scholarship.

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