Brexit could see environmental regulation become “more piecemeal, incremental, minimalist and reactive”, MSPs hear

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 15 March 2017 in News

Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee takes written submissions from environmental policy experts

Brexit could see Scottish and UK environmental regulation become “more piecemeal, incremental, minimalist and reactive”, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee has heard.

In a written submission to MSPs, Gavin Little, Professor in Public and Environmental Law at the University of Stirling warned that Brexit could result in environmental law reverting to a “more conservative” and “arguably less effective” state.

However experts from the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance told the committee that leaving the EU could allow Scotland to develop a system of integrated regulation and financial support for ecosystem stewardship by farmers that is “more ambitious, from an environmental perspective, than that in the EU”.


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Roseanna Cunningham has warned that Brexit could threaten Scotland’s environmental interests, with the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform telling the committee that the impact of Brexit on areas of environmental policy was a “big unknown”.

Meanwhile Friends of the Earth Scotland director Dr Richard Dixon suggested “there will likely be a huge drive within the UK Government to rip up laws which protect nature, prevent pollution and set standards for a clean environment”.

Describing how environmental law in Scotland has been transformed by the EU, Professor Colin Reid, Professor of Environmental Law at the University of Dundee, told MSPs that the “comparative stability” of EU policy making, which he said makes them well-suited to the long-term efforts required to tackle major environmental problems such as water quality and climate change.

He said: “The greater scope for rapid change outwith the EU brings both the advantages and disadvantages of flexibility, with the potential to respond more quickly to changing circumstances but also a lack of certainty as to the future and a danger of policy being swayed by short-term political pressures.”

Little warned that if Scotland and the UK are no longer subject to EU enforcement of environmental law, “the functional effectiveness of the domestic regime may reduce over time”, adding that a “review of alternative post-Brexit arrangements for enforcement may be required”.

He said: “In general terms, it can also be argued that Brexit has the potential to result in both the substance of domestic environmental law falling behind developments in the EU and, alternatively, the facilitation of the development of a more stringent domestic legal system.”

Little said: “Taken together, this may result over time in Scottish and UK environmental policy and law becoming more piecemeal, incremental, minimalist and reactive.

He added: “While much modern Scottish environmental law, based as it is on EU provision, deals with domestic aspects of complex “new age” transnational issues such as climate change and low-carbon transition, it may be that Brexit could result in a reversion to this earlier, more conservative (and arguably less effective) policy/legal dynamic.”

The submission from Professor Elisa Morgera, Co-Director of the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law & Governance (SCELG), Antonio Cardesa-Salzmann, lecturer in EU Environmental Law at SCELG, Miranda Geelhoed, PhD Fellow at SCELG and Mara Ntona, PhD Fellow at SCELG also highlighted how the EU’s biodiversity framework has led to the improved status of protected areas in the UK.

It said the EU’s biodiversity framework has recently been assessed as cost-effective, without creating unnecessary administrative burdens or barriers to sustainable investment.

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