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Air quality regulations at risk from Brexit

A group of environmental organisations has warned about the risks Brexit could cause to air quality and hazardous chemical regulations.

On the first anniversary of the EU referendum, the Greener UK group has published a Brexit risk tracker report, which will be regularly updated to reflect issues with environmental policy throughout the next two years.

The tracker will use a ‘traffic light’ rating system to show which policies are the most secure (green) and the most at risk (red) from Brexit.

Currently, the policies around air quality and the regulation of hazardous chemicals are both marked as red.

According to the coalition, the UK government is currently in breach of EU air quality regulations and last month’s draft air quality plan has been widely criticised.

Environment Journal reported last week on the concerns Oxford City Council have about the draft plan and their calls for local authorities to be given more powers to tackle the issue.

The report also notes the UK government has still not committed to stay within the EU systems for regulating hazardous chemicals, REACH.

‘This is a pivotal parliament to determine the sort of country we want to live in as we leave the EU,’ said the head of the Green Alliance’s Greener UK unit, Amy Mount.

‘The Conservative manifesto rightly set the bar high with its commitment to leave our environment in a better state and to be a world leader in environmental protection, and the government has also expressed its commitment that the body of EU environmental law will continue to have effect in domestic law.

‘We are running this risk tracker to help the government live up to those ambitions, by highlighting the areas of greatest concern and celebrating any progress made,’ added Mount.

‘As well as the risks we’ve highlighted with this analysis, Brexit brings opportunities, particularly in agriculture, where subsidies could be better focused on public benefits, including nature conservation, flood management and reducing carbon emissions. We hope future updates of the tracker will show the red and amber ratings switch to green.’

The risk tracker rate climate and energy policies as green, as ministers have previously indicated that the UK government will remain part of the EU’s internal energy market.

The coalition claims staying in the EU energy market will make it easier for the UK to decarbonise and keep energy prices down.

In addition, the report notes the UK has a strong Climate Change Act.

In March, the Conservative think tank Bright Blue published a report which claimed overwhelming majority of Tory voters supported maintaining or strengthening all of the main EU environmental regulations after Brexit.

According to the poll, 92% backed strengthening or maintaining air quality targets and a similar number (91%) wanted to see household waste recycling targets maintained.

‘With the Great Repeal Bill confirmed in this week’s Queen’s Speech, the government has made a welcome commitment to maintain EU environmental protections after Brexit,’ said Bright Blue’s senior researcher, Sam Hall.

‘These regulations have been effective at safeguarding and improving our natural inheritance, and are vital tools for realising the conservative principle of environmental stewardship.

‘These protections are also popular with the public. Bright Blue polling shows that clear majorities of Conservative voters support at least maintaining the main EU environmental regulations after we leave the EU.

‘But as the risk tracker shows, more needs to be done to ensure the UK complies, particularly on air pollution. The government’s proposals to give more powers, funding and responsibilities to city councils to reduce air pollution in their local area are welcome, but they should be actively encouraged to introduce charging low emission zones, which international evidence has shown to successfully cut toxic vehicle pollution in cities.’

Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech also announced there will be legislation around electric cars and new national policies on nuclear safeguards, agriculture, and fisheries.

The executive director of Green Alliance and chair of Greener UK, Shaun Spiers, said the government used ‘favourable language around international leadership and remaining at the forefront of global climate action, working to fully implement the Paris Agreement’.

‘But there are still questions around the Repeal Bill and environmental safeguards as we leave the EU, such as what will happen to the principles that underpin EU protections, and which institutions will enforce environmental laws post-Brexit,’ said Spiers.

‘The Repeal Bill must work hand in hand with the Trade Bill, the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill to make sure it sets a clear path for the UK as a world-leader on the environment and to ensure a greener UK,’ he added.

The joint leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, said failing to include ‘any meaningful plans to tackle climate change’ in the Queen’s Speech ‘is a near-criminal act of political vandalism’.

While the Renewable Energy Association’s head of policy and external affairs, James Court, welcomed the government’s ambitions around electric cars.

“The proposed Automated and Electric Vehicle Bill will support the development of a more universal strategic charging infrastructure across the country which will help to accelerate the adoption of these new vehicles,’ said Court.

‘This Queen’s Speech is part of a wider picture about declining costs and increasing deployment across the renewable energy and clean tech industries. Our priority now is for government clarity around the future of the industrial strategy and the clean growth plan.’

Photo by David Holt London

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