The UK's Environmental Approach After Brexit
Since the UK joined the European Union in 1973, the government’s environmental approach has been heavily influenced by decisions made in Brussels. Because of this, environmental targets have been with the clear goal of helping the environment.
However, with the 2016 referendum leading to a Brexit vote there is a lot of uncertainty around what the UK will do to help protect the planet independently. With no deal in place yet as brexit negotiations are ongoing, the anxiety amongst environmentalists continues to grow. This has led to organisations such as Friends of the Earth to commissioning their own risk assessment. This report was to determine what might happen depending on which future environmental model the country adopts.
Such uncertainty over policy changes means we can only try to predict how environmental plans will be shaped in the future. Bronneberg has looked at three of the most significant environmental policies - green energy, recycling and air quality - to consider how they will be shaped by an United Kingdom independent of EU influence.
What green energy targets have the UK been set by the EU?
The green energy target set by the EU Renewable Energy Directive requires the UK to generate 15% of its energy from renewable by the year 2020. When the directive was first introduced in 2009, the UK was only generating 3% of its energy from renewable sources. This isn’t just energy garnered for electricity but must also be used in heating and transport.
To hit this target, the UK will need to generate 30% of its electricity and 12% of its heating energy from renewable resources. With the sub-target in place for transport also, 10% of energy for that sector must come from renewable resources.
How will Brexit affect the UK’s green energy approach?
The withdrawal of the UK from the EU will largely not change much in terms of green energy policy. It will give the UK an opportunity to take an easier route on green energy policies if it no longer has to hit the RED 2020 target.
In terms of renewable energy, the building of wind-farms to meet the targets are likely to still go ahead. This is because planning permission and subsidy contracts would have already been agreed.
What recycling targets have been set by the EU?
The UK is expected to hit a recycling target of 50% in terms of household waste by 2020. The EU is also considering adding a 2030 target of 65% on most EU nations. It is expected that countries which are significantly behind their 2020 will be given more lenient 2030 goals.
Households in the UK are asked to separate recyclable items from their rubbish. Because of this, recycling rates increased to around 44%. However, not all councils are performing well in this aspect. Those councils have been asked to make renewed efforts to improve. In the future, households may be asked to separate all the different types of recycling. This will include paper, glass metal and plastic. Food waste could have separate collections.
Wales leads the way on UK recycling currently, with the latest figures showing 61% of waste was reused.
How will Brexit affect the UK’s approach to recycling?
Brexit will affect the UK’s approach to recycling because each country of the Kingdom will have separate targets. Scotland and Wales have already set up recycling targets that are more demanding than the EU. Recycling firms fear that England could give itself more lenient targets after Brexit. However, the Government says they remain committed to the 50% target. With such commitments in place, companies will still turn to recycling machines and applications to continue to push the UK’s circular economy.
What air quality targets have been set by the EU?
The EU’s Ambient Air Quality Directive set a series of targets to limit the dangerous levels of pollution in the air. Nitrogen dioxide is the most challenging of these gases and is believed to cause thousands of deaths a year. EU member states were required to produce plans to limit nitrogen dioxide by 2010 or 2015 at the latest. The UK failed to submit a plan which means the UK is expected to have illegally high levels of nitrogen dioxide by 2020. In May 2018, the World Health Organization revealed that 40 UK cities and towns have exceeded their air pollution limits.
With such high levels of pollution in the UK’s urban areas, a significant reduction of air pollution is required. This includes cleaner specifications of new vehicles as well as placing restrictions on the most polluting older vehicles.
Clean air zones such as the one in place in London, are expected to be introduced to Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Southampton by 2020. Polluting old diesel vehicles will face charges for driving in those zones.
How will Brexit affect the UK’s approach to air quality?
Environmentalists are concerned that the UK’s approach to air quality will soften after Brexit. At first those EU laws will still be within UK law. However, the UK is free to repeal those laws if they so wish. The EU has such a strong stance on environmental law that it took the UK to court over those air pollution figures. Without such scrutiny, campaigners worry the UK Government won’t continue the momentum gathered by EU climate change initiatives.
UK Government’s Climate Change 25 Year Plan:
In July 2018, environmental secretary Michael Gove wanted to address environmental approach fears with a speech from WWF’s Living Planet Centre. Gove insisted that “the UK Climate Change Act Shows this country is more than capable of bringing in our own strong legislation to protect the environment, independent of the EU.” The Climate Change Act was further enhanced by the January 2018 release of the UK Climate Change 25 Year Plan for improving the environment within a generation. The government plans to work with communities and businesses to achieve the targets it has set out within the environmental plan.
As with all the big issues surrounding the UK after Brexit, we will only find out what will really happen once it takes place. Until the UK leaves the EU, environmentalists and global recycling firms will wait to see see how the government will approach its environmental issues independently.
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