This briefing examines the role of the European Union in UK environmental legislation and explores potential outcomes for UK environmental policy after leaving the EU, or “Brexit”.
With the recent decision to withdraw from the EU, the future of much UK legislation is in question. In the context of the scientific consensus on the urgency of halting catastrophic climate change, which could devastate ecosystem stability and human welfare, environmental legislation is a crucial policy area, and one which has
Various scenarios have explored the possible outcomes for the direction of future UK environmental policy. In a report for the All-Party Parliamentary Environment group, the two main avenues concerned the UK’s future membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) . If the UK were to negotiate EEA membership, as a European Free Trade Association member, most environmental legislation would continue to apply, including laws controlling pollution, chemicals and waste management, with some major exceptions including the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, as well as the Birds and Habitats Directives. The UK would no longer maintain an active role in environmental decision-making at the EU level. Outside the EEA, most environmental legislation would no longer apply. However, the UK must develop new legislation to fulfil its international obligations, ratified in treaties such as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the Bonn Convention, the Bern Convention, and the Paris Agreement.
As formal exit negotiations will only begin once the UK has triggered Article 50, expected in March 2017, it is not yet clear whether the UK will seek EEA membership. In October 2016, the newly elected government proposed a Great Repeal Bill to be introduced in the May 2017 Parliamentary session, intended to annul the European Communities Act and transpose EU law to UK law. However, a report by the Environmental Audit Committee on the future of the natural environment after the EU referendum expresses concerns about the vulnerability of environmental legislation, recommending a new Environmental Protection Act to ensure that current levels of environmental protection are maintained . This concern is shared by environmental NGOs, with the launch of the Greener UK coalition in December 2016; 178 MPs to date have signed the “Greener UK” pledge to support these aims . Future agricultural policy is of particular importance due to the vital role of agricultural land in the delivery of a suite of ecosystem services . Current levels of financial support to farmers have only been guaranteed until 2020, and the environment secretary Andrea Leadsom stated her intention to remove elements of EU regulation, such as the “three-crop rule”, designed to improve biodiversity on larger farms . The 25-year plans for the environment and agriculture currently under preparation are an opportunity to present measures for future environmental policies to maintain the progress achieved with the EU, and match the ambition needed to tackle pressing global issues.
 House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Report HC 537 (2016) “EU and UK Environmental Policy”.
URL: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmenvaud/537/537.pdf. Accessed 13.01.2017
 Scheuer, S. (Ed.) (2005) EU Environmental Policy Handbook: A Critical Analysis of EU Environmental Legislation. European Environmental Bureau, Brussels.
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 Baldock, D., Farmer, A. and Nesbit, M. (2016) “Brexit – the Implications for UK Environmental Policy and Regulation.” Report for the All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group, Institute for European Environmental Policy, London.
URL: http://ieep.eu/work-areas/environmental-governance/2016/03/implications-of-brexit-for-uk-environmental-policy-and-regulation-a-report-for-appg. Accessed 13.01.2017
 House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee Report HC 599 (2017) “The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU”.
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 Greener UK page on Green Alliance website. URL: http://green-alliance.org.uk/greeneruk. Accessed 13.01.2017
 Swinton, S. M., Lupi, F., Robertson, G. P., & Hamilton, S. K. (2007). Ecosystem services and agriculture: cultivating agricultural ecosystems for diverse benefits. Ecological economics 64(2), 245-252. URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2007.09.020
 Walker, P. (04.01.2017) “Andrea Leadsom promises Brexit bonfire of regulation for farmers.”
URL: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/04/andrea-leadsom-vows-to-scrap-eu-red-tape-for-farmers-after-brexit, in The Guardian. Accessed 13.01.2017