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Lawyers In For Britain: The UK and the EU: Benefits, misconceptions and alternatives banner

Pollution does not respect national boundaries. Both air pollution and water pollution can travel long distances and toxic waste can be transported across borders. Environmental problems in European countries are therefore better tackled by the EU than by individual countries acting alone. Common European environmental standards help to:

  • Regulate discharges into the atmosphere and into UK rivers from large industrial installations such as power stations, waste incinerators, oil refineries and chemical plants.[1]
  • Improve air quality in UK towns and cities.[2] According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, in 2008 air pollution had an effect equivalent to 29,000 deaths a year in England.[3]
  • Ensure that untreated sewage is not dumped into UK rivers and seas[4] and that all British citizens have access to clean, safe drinking water.[5]
  • Ensure that water quality in the English Channel and the North Sea is not adversely impacted by French, Belgian, Dutch, German, Danish or, for that matter, UK industry.[6]
  • Make available information about water quality and pollution levels in bathing waters so that bathers know where it is safe to swim.[7]
  • Make the manufacture, sale and use of chemicals and pesticides safer.[8]
  • Ensure that toxic waste is properly managed and disposed of.[9]
  • Limit the unsustainable landfilling of household rubbish and encourage more recycling.[10]
  • Prevent a repeat of major industrial accidents like the Buncefield explosion in December 2005.[11]
  • Fight climate change.[12] The EU Emissions Trading System requires large emitters of carbon dioxide (such as power stations and cement works) to hold EU emission allowances permitting them to emit certain quantities of carbon dioxide. These allowances are tradable across the EU and tracked in a central EU registry. Britain is also likely to have more influence in global climate change negotiations (such as those that led to the Paris Agreement in December 2015) as a member of the EU than on its own.[13]
  • Manage the adverse environmental impacts of major projects such as new airports, ports and railway lines by requiring an environmental impact assessment to be carried out before they are approved.[14] Mitigation measures can then be developed and implemented. Dealing with the environmental impact assessment of major projects at a European level also reduces red tape by requiring only one assessment to be made for cross-border projects. For example, the Dogger Bank Wind Farm benefitted from having to carry out only one environmental impact assessment (and not three – despite being located in German, Dutch and British waters).[15]

Migratory species such as birds and fish do not respect national boundaries either. The conservation of wild animals and the habitats they live in is therefore better dealt with by the EU. Much of Britain’s nature conservation legislation regarding biodiversity, habitats and wildlife stems from EU law.[16]

Common European environmental standards also mean that there is a level playing field for trade in the EU single market. Tackling environmental issues together at a European level ensures that Britain’s major trading partners do not compete unfairly by lowering their environmental standards in comparison to those of the UK and that consumers are protected.[17]

Being part of the Union has enabled us to co-ordinate action and agree policies that have improved our quality of life, including the air we breathe, the seas we fish in, and have protected the wildlife which crosses national boundaries”. Letter to Environment Secretary from some of the UK’s most eminent naturalists including former chairs, chief executives, or directors general of English Nature, Natural England, the Environment Agency, Natural Environment Research Council, the RSPB and the National Trust.[18]

  1. Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32010L0075; Directive 2001/81/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2001 on national emission ceilings for certain atmospheric pollutants – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2001:309:0022:0030:EN:PDF.
  2. Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32008L0050.
  3. http://laqm.defra.gov.uk/public-health/public-health.html.
  4. Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban waste-water treatment – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/ALL/?uri=CELEX:31991L0271.
  5. Council Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 1998 on the quality of water intended for human consumption – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV%3Al28079.
  6. Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive) – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32008L0056.
  7. Directive 2006/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 February 2006 concerning the management of bathing water quality and repealing Directive 76/160/EEC – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32006L0007.
  8. Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC – http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/reach/legislation_en.htm; Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, amending and repealing Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC, and amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006; Regulation (EC) No.1107/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market and repealing Council Directives 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:353:0001:1355:en:PDF.
  9. Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2008:312:0003:0030:en:PDF;; Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26 April 1999 on the landfill of waste – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A31999L0031; Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2006 on shipments of waste – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=URISERV%3Al11022; Directive 2002/96/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 2003 on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32002L0096.
  10. Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26 April 1999 on the landfill of waste – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A31999L0031; Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32008L0098.
  11. Directive 2012/18/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directive 96/82/EC – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32012L0018.
  12. Directive 2003/87/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 2003 establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community and amending Council Directive 96/61/EC – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32003L0087.
  13. According to John Ashton, previously the UK’s lead climate envoy: “Europe has been a driving force in building the global response to climate change and Britain has been at the heart of that. The UK has a national interest in a successful response to climate change. A Europe in which Britain is semi-detached or worse, in the process of leaving, is not going to be a Europe doing the climate diplomacy that we need to secure our national interest” – RTCC News, David Cameron cannot opt out of EU Climate Policy, 18 January 2013 – http://www.rtcc.org/2013/01/18/david-cameron-cannot-opt-out-of-eu-climate-policy/.
  14. Directive 2011/92/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 December 2011 on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment – http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eia/pdf/EIA_Directive_informal.pdf.
  15. HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European UnionEnvironment and Climate Change, February 2014, paragraph 2.106 – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/284500/environment-climate-change-documents-final-report.pdf.↑
  16. Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A31992L0043; Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2009 on the conservation of wild birds – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32009L0147.
  17. For example, Directive 2011/65/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2011 on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment – http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex:32011L0065 – prohibits the placing on the European market of any electrical or electronic equipment containing hazardous substances such as lead and mercury. It not only sets common standards that manufacturers and importers must comply with, but also protects consumers from exposure to those hazardous substances.
  18. The letter was undated but reported in the national press on 27 January 2016 – http://www.green-alliance.org.uk/EU_letter_to_Liz_Truss_MP.php.