EU membership has been a crucial factor in shaping UK environmental policy on air and water pollution, and biodiversity, according to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on EU and UK Environmental Policy.
Mary Creagh MP, Chair, said:
"The UK has cleaned up its act since we were dubbed the 'dirty man of Europe' in the seventies. EU environmental laws have played a key part, and mean we bathe on cleaner beaches, drive more fuel-efficient cars and can hold Government to account on air pollution."
The Committee heard that EU environmental policy development has been a two-way street. On the one hand, EU membership has given the UK a platform to pursue its environmental objectives internationally, and influence the strategic, long-term direction of policy. On the other hand, EU membership has ensured that environmental action in the UK has been taken on a faster timetable, and more thoroughly than would otherwise have been the case.
EU environmental legislation
EAC Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said:
"Inside the EU we can influence and improve EU environmental law. Our voice at the Paris climate change conference was louder because we were part of a club of 28 countries."
The inquiry heard concerns that a UK outside the EU would still have to follow some EU environmental legislation, but with significantly less ability to influence how it is developed. Ministers told the Committee that a vote to leave would result in a "long and tortuous negotiation". Business representatives felt a leave vote could remove long-term certainty.
UK environment "better protected"
The overwhelming majority of witnesses said that there were benefits to solving some of our environmental problems multilaterally, and that the UK’s membership of the EU has ensured that the UK environment has been better protected.
EAC Chair, Mary Creagh MP, concluded:
"Environmental problems don’t respect borders. When it comes to protecting our natural environment and dealing with global problems like climate change, the overwhelming evidence is that EU membership has improved the UK’s approach to the environment and ensured that the UK’s environment has been better protected."