Product has been added to the basket

HoC Environmental Audit Committee - Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee have launched an inquiry into the Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum. Details of the inquiry can be found on the committee website. The submission produced by the Geological Society can be found below:

Submitted 9 September 2016

1. The Geological Society (GSL) is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with about 12,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia, regulatory agencies and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education, and other non-technical audiences.

2. We welcome the committee’s inquiry to examine the impacts of the referendum vote on the future of the natural environment. However, the current inquiry falls short of covering many of the wide-ranging impacts that this vote could have on natural environment policy and protection in the UK. There are a number of inquiries being run across the Select Committees that are investigating the impacts of leaving the EU on various sectors such as science and research, energy policy and climate change but there is no one currently looking at the full range of impacts that the referendum result could have on the UK’s environment.

3. We want to outline some of the important areas that are not covered in the current inquiry. Areas of policy and regulation that could be significantly impacted by the UK leaving the EU include the regulation of industrial activity, controls on substances, regulation and standards for chemicals, materials and levels of contamination as well as the focus of current environmental legislation around ecosystem services and natural capital.

4. Much of the regulation around industry codes and standards for materials and chemicals is governed by EU legislation. Health and safety regulation such as REACH, the regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals has particular relevance to geoscience industry. The aim of this legislation is to provide a high level of protection for human health and the environment from the use of chemicals. The legislation aims to allow free movement of substances on the EU market and enhance innovation in the EU chemicals industry. It is not clear how the UK’s exit from the EU will affect REACH legislation in the UK but changes and amendments to this structure will have impacts on UK industry that should be investigated.

5. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is an EU directive and a significant body of policy which was designed to commit EU member states to achieve good qualitative and quantitative status of all water bodies. It was designed to shift the management of water resources to river basins, which can cross political borders, and has contributed to a more holistic way of managing water and natural environment. This programme is widely considered to be effective and progressive in how it manages water across regions and borders and has yielded very positive results thus far. If the UK’s decides to remain in the EEA then adherence to the WFD along with many other environmental directives will be a requirement of membership. But if we choose to leave then the government could proceed with altering or repealing these existing laws. This could pose a number of challenges, including the management of water across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. There are also a number of other directives which could be affected including the Bathing Water Directive, Drinking Water Directive – which provides minimum microbiological and chemical stands for what is fit to be consumable and the Nitrates Directive, all of which could be impacted depending on the nature of the Brexit negotiations.

6. EU directives such as the Birds and Habitat Directive and the Water Framework Directive have contributed to a growing body of environmental policy which outlines a more holistic approach to environmental management which takes into consideration the complex interactions between subsurface, surface, atmosphere etc and has moved away from environmental management along political boundaries. The EU was also instrumental in taking up the idea of ecosystem services as a framework for environmental management and developing policy in the context of ‘natural capital’ and its fundamental importance to the economy and the welfare of society. The impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on these wide ranging environmental protections and policy frameworks needs to be fully examined and assessed if we are to understand the potential impacts of the different routes to leaving the EU.