EU Referendum Vote: Impact of a leave decision on the environment.
Yusuf Abdi: Law Undergraduate Birkbeck College, University of London
The referendum vote on whether to stay within or leave the EU is upon us. You can be forgiven for losing interest in anything remotely political, since the purveyors of politics are an often unconscientious and deceitful breed, many cannot relate to. However, there is much at stake and if the tedious back and forth between said politicians and their childish antics is not incentive enough to end the debacle, these environmental issues will certainly provide the impetus to drag yourself to the nearest polling centre to do your civic duty. The EU has indeed grown into an immense governing body in recent times, having acquired large swathes of member states’ sovereignty through treaties. It now influences policy in hugely important areas like; immigration, customs, environment, commerce to name a few. It is as a result of this controlling influence over policy that friction has developed between the EU and certain member states disgruntling a portion of their population. However, no matter how bad the EU is made out to seem, there are definite advantages to living within the EU.
The EU and Air Quality
The EU has fiercely pursued improved air quality in Europe. An extensive body of Community legislation has been adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in relation to ambient air quality. It is no surprise therefore that air quality statistics in the United Kingdom indicate a moderate decrease of pollutants in the air in urban areas, with particulate matter steadily dropping since 2010. This reduction reflects the requirement of Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe. However, the implementation of the Directive has been lethargic and a recent Supreme Court decision regarding the United Kingdom’s failure to secure compliance; in certain zones, with the limits for nitrogen dioxide levels, unanimously ordered the government to submit new air quality plans to the European Commission. The Directive was enacted in 2008 and eight years later amidst political pressure, fines and litigation, the government is still struggling to comply and efficiently regulate the most fundamental resource we have; the air we breathe. A recent report published by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health concluded that 40,000 deaths annually are attributable to exposure to air pollution. The report also indicated that the cost of health problems associated with air pollution was upward of £20 billion annually. The EU is not without its problems, but it is clear in this case that without its stewardship our air quality would be worse for wear. As an avid breather, I for one welcome the continued custody of our air by the European Union.
The EU and Public Participation in environmental decision making
Some of the environmental data I have used in my blog have been derived from government websites which have made such information available in compliance with EU legislation. It is now a requirement that prior to development; a risk assessment involving public consultation, is carried out. This requirement has greatly empowered the public who now have say in what activities go on in their communities. In its recent planning reform proposal, the government declared that it would let locals have say on local planning. This is important because there have been many development promises made on election platforms and with the aggressive Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 in the background, it is likely many green spaces around the city are under threat. So, when you are able to access detailed public records regarding the impact of proposed development on the environment or are able to raise objections and legal interventions about them, remember that these mechanisms are provided courtesy of our membership of the European Union. If we left Europe, a sovereign parliament checked by an executive with a majority may decide to roll back any powers delegated to the public in the environment sphere and run roughshod over us.
Our membership of the EU has been portrayed as steep. If placed in context however, the £8 bn lost annually, is a tiny fraction of the £2,000 bn GDP of the United Kingdom. For that tiny loss, there are immense benefits and improvements on the quality of human life and protection for flora and fauna. Therefore, on voting day 23rd June, keep an open head and remember immigration is not the only issue at stake.