Environmental law expert James Thornton explains why a Brexit would be bad for the environment

Brexit: Staying in the EU is best for UK nature and climate

The EU is a powerful force for good when it comes to the UK environment. The reason Brexit would be bad for the environment is that the EU forces the UK and other EU countries to raise themselves to a higher standard of protection than they would necessarily choose on their own.

ClientEarth’s Supreme Court victory against the UK government on air pollution was based on EU law. Despite our planned return to court because of Defra’s continuing failure to deal with air quality, who knows what a future UK government would do if those laws did not apply at all?

Reasons not to Brexit: EU law is at the heart of how we protect nature

EU law is how bees and puffins and butterflies and dolphins are protected. New conservation zones which will protect harbour porpoises are only being considered as a result of EU laws. Of course, the loss of EU farm and fisheries subsidies, which would follow our exit from the EU, might have unintended positive consequences for nature – though with huge negative economic and social impacts on farming and fishing communities. But without these EU laws, it’s unclear to what extent wildlife would be protected in the UK.

As a public interest law organisation, we also work on keeping toxic chemicals out of everyday products and the environment. Much of our work on this topic is based on EU laws, which are the best in the world in this particular area.

The UK has its Climate Change Act, but the EU’s pledge at COP21 in Paris commits the bloc to even greater emissions reductions. With a seat at the table on all EU laws, the UK has the power, hard and soft, to influence the direction of EU policy and find practical responses to the environmental problems we face. As part of the EU on the international stage, the UK can continue to drive collective ambition to address global climate change. Without collective action, and without the UK in the EU, we may fail.

The EU may be imperfect in many ways, but for the protection of the environment, it is the best game around.

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