EU Referendum: The environmental arguments FOR and AGAINST Brexit

With just hours remaining until we learn the fate of the European Union (EU) referendum, edie has rounded up ALL of our coverage to bring you a quick overview of everything we've heard from the sustainability and environment sector, on both sides of the debate.

The ever-changing pendulum has swung once more with the latest polls (including our very own edie readers survey) showing that the remain campaign has taken a last-minute lead– but if the 2015 general election is anything to go by, we could be in for a surprise.

However, with the referendum being described as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event that will define both our and future generations, your vote really matters!

With that in mind here’s everything you need to know about the environmental arguments both for and against remaining an EU Member State.

The environmental arguments to remain IN the EU

  • We’re ‘better together’ to  tackle climate change 

    The role of the EU was crucial in the outcome of the Paris Agreement, as 28 Member States were completely committed to an ambitious and legally-binding agreement. Ministers and environmental groups have cited the UK’s influential role at the Paris Climate Change Conference as evidence that remaining in Europe would strengthen the UK’s bargaining power in EU environmental legislation.


Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) Lord Nick Bourne said: “Obviously, climate change is an issue that does not stop at national boundaries, so it is very natural that we want to be part of a unit like Europe in terms of climate change negotiations to push the agenda forward… I think that it certainly helped being part of that very strong, united EU team.”

  • We are no longer the ‘dirty man of Europe’

    The average standards of water efficiency and bathing sites across the continent have improved significantly thanks to the EU’s 1976 Bathing Water Directive, which has made our beaches as clean, clear and swimmable as they are today. An exit from the EU will result in laws that protect our beaches and nature ceasing to apply.


Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) chair Mary Creagh said: “The UK has cleaned up its act since we were dubbed the ‘dirty man of Europe’ in the 70s. EU environmental laws have played a key part, and mean we bathe on cleaner beaches.”

  • The EU is helping us to realise ‘circular’ ambitions 

    The European Commission (EU) has adopted an ambitious new Circular Economy Package to help European businesses make the transition to a stronger circular economy where resources are used in a more sustainable way. Waste and recycling performance and business collaboration towards circular resource economy could be hit if the UK leaves the EU.


Veolia UK and Ireland technical director Richard Kirkman said: “These new targets from the EU are a big step to delivering a circular economy. This could be a great British success story – we just need to make it as easy as possible for residents to recycle in the first place.”

  • EU regulations are mitigating our air quality crisis

    Sustained efforts to reduce emissions of air pollutants in the EU have enabled broad compliance with several of the commonly agreed EU air quality standards. A potential Brexit could see a severe weakening of environmental standards across the board, especially in terms of air quality.


Former DECC Secretary Ed Davey said: “Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s only down to the EU, I think that if we pulled out, we would see our environment worsen. Lib Dem MEPs and myself as Secretary of State did an awful lot at an EU level to ensure that Britain’s air pollution is improved.”


Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: “Dreadful is probably the appropriate word to be used [to sum up the Conservatives’ green policy changes]. We’ve seen policies torn away. They’ve pulled the rug out from under thousands of solar businesses up and down the country, and pulled the rug out from community energy schemes at various stages of development.”

The environmental arguments to LEAVE the EU

  • A lack of renewables investment is a ‘Europe-wide failure’

    EU nations have promoted clean energy at vastly inflated costs through imposed renewable energy targets, tariffs and subsidies. When budgets reached breaking point in 2011, European renewable energy investment slumped by more than half and has yet to recover. A lack of financial support for clean energy projects is a “Europe-wide failure” rather than being specific to the UK.


Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) chairman Michael Liebreich said: “Look at Germany which is ‘energiewende’ central. Investment in clean energy has dropped and nobody knows quite how to reinvigorate it. In Spain, renewable energy has flatlined; Italy has flatlined, and France has never really ignited.”

  • We would regain control over all areas of green policy

    The most significant recent UK environmental policies were driven by the national Government rather than the EU. If the UK were to leave the EU, it would gain further autonomy in important matters of environmental policy and enable the Government to push forward strategic interests, as already witnessed with the carbon floor price.


In an op-ed piece for the Guardian, Liebreich said: “When it became clear that the bureaucratic and fraud-prone EU carbon trading scheme was going to produce a nugatory carbon price, the UK unilaterally enacted a floor price which drove its coal-fired power stations into retirement. It was the UK which unilaterally decided to phase out coal-fired power entirely by 2025.”

  • We would be free from ‘spirit-crushing’ green directives

    Some areas of EU environmental policy are cumbersome and compromising on the UK’s green strategy. The leave campaign argues that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has protected neither fisheries nor fishing communities, and that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) discriminates against non-EU imports and holds back sustainable development.


Farming minister George Eustice said: “A lot of the national directives they instructed us to put in place would stay. But the directives’ framework is so rigid that it is spirit-crushing. If we had more flexibility, we could focus our scientists’ energies on coming up with new, interesting ways to protect the environment, rather than just producing voluminous documents from Brussels.”

  • Small businesses are ‘kicked all over the park’ by EU regulations.

    Most large businesses benefit from having resources, such as staff and departments, dedicated to coping with all the regulations that come from Europe. On the other hand, the voice of SMEs in the EU is small. While the voice of small business would decrease further from a Brexit, it would not necessarily be to their detriment, as they are not major players in the European market.


London-based food waste collection and recycling company Bio Collectors managing director Paul Killoughery said: “Our businesses are being impeded by bureaucrats in Brussels and governed by how strongly they lobby with other member states. The resulting legislation that we all end up with is the sum average of a number of different countries. For example, the UK’s recycling rate target is a European target. Whether we wanted a higher or lower goal, we don’t get a vote on that.”


Brexit: What YOU have to say…

edie readers have been quizzed on their stance on Britain’s EU membership, with the overwhelming majority of sustainability professionals and green groups agreeing that remaining in the EU is crucial for our transition to a low-carbon future.

Cast your own vote (if you haven’t already) and let us know your thoughts about the Referendum in the comments section below.

George Ogleby

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