Brexit’s impact on the environment

IIEA warns of destabilising effect on momentum to address climate change

The environmental impact of Brexit in all scenarios will be damaging. Two recent reports underline the gravity of that inevitable outcome. A stark assessment by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) warns Brexit could have a profoundly destabilising impact on global momentum to address climate change, not least when combined with a US withdrawl from the Paris accord on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On another front, there are more than 650 pieces of EU legislation in force to protect the environment, habitats, air quality, waste, food safety and a myriad of other areas. They are the drivers for environmental protection in the Republic and Northern Ireland, according to a Seanad Brexit committee report. They ensure consistency in protecting nature and make up a regulatory framework for efficient trade.

The negative consequences ripple out from the loss of UK influence at the EU table, where it has been a leader in EU climate policy. But under all three Brexit scenarios analysed by the IIEA, there may be a requirement for the EU to resubmit a less ambitious pledge to the Paris agreement. This is because the UK contributes disproportionately to the EU pledge (a 40 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030). Other EU states are “unlikely to take up the slack post-Brexit”.

In an “ultra-hard” scenario with domestic rollback of environmental legislation, where the UK seeks to gain competitive advantage through deregulation, the situation is worst. The UK would be unlikely to submit an ambitious national pledge to the Paris accord. This would have profound implications for trade, carbon leakage and, potentially, competitiveness between the UK and its EU trading partners, including Ireland.

The Seanad report calls for Ireland to be “considered a single bio-geographic unit” amid fears that UK and EU regulation “may fall out-of-sync” once Brexit negotiations are concluded.

In both reports, the consequences of dropped or diluted environmental regulations are clear: there’s a big downside for everyone but the UK.