Brexit puts EU-based environmental controls at risk

by Roz Paterson • In the wake of almost certain Brexit, the pariah that is the UK may well have to prostrate itself at the feet of anyone willing to do business, even if that means abandoning its environmental commitments. I know, like the current British nationalist government cares about the planet!

Unfortunately, an awful lot of us do care, because—following the news that carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere have reached an unprecedented and dangerous 400 parts per million (ppm)—action to address climate change should now supercedes all other considerations.

Yet, as we shoot into the red—in terms of irreversible environmental damage—the political consensus seems more determined than ever to party like its 1959, like all we need is harder sums in schools, a bit more racial purity, and the freedom to eat rancid pig meat done up as sausages.

The European Union (EU) is not good enough, but it’s the best option available, especially where the environment is concerned, and the coming months could see a host of little celebrated, but enormously important EU directives come unstuck. To be replaced by…hot air.

Giving evidence at the House of Lords EU Energy and Environment sub-committee, Professor Michael Grubb, of University College London, opined that a desperate Britain would even consider “abandoning the Carbon Price Floor”; a development he labelled an “extraordinary decision”.

The Carbon Price Floor was designed to provide incentives to investment in low-carbon energy by taxing carbon dioxide emissions at £16 per tonne, rising to £30 by 2020. However, in true British fashion, this has been capped to £18 per tonne till 2019 to keep the UK competitive as, without cheapness, it would clearly be a basket case economy.

This, by the way, is less of an issue for Scotland, which has been described, says leading environmentalist Jonathon Porrit, as the “Saudi Arabia of renewables,” thanks to our energetic commitment to providing all of Scotland’s electricity through renewables by 2020. A target we have already met for a handful of days this year, and are well on track to bringing home on deadline, if not before.

Another red flag is the issue of air quality, the UK’s commitment to which could be fatally damaged by the ominously entitled Great Repeal Bill. It’s quite a weak commitment as it is; indeed, the Westminster government’s Air Quality Plan was deemed so piss-poor by environmentalists that they successfully took them to court over it.

Yet in the very week that the High Court told the government to rip it up and start again, the said government waved through a third runway at Heathrow.

The greenest government ever? You’re having a laugh.

Air quality is not just a human health issue. In fact, a human health crisis, with deaths related directly to air pollution put at 40,000 per annum in the UK. It is also a global warming issue. The UK government has been very pro-active in trying to unbolt the bits of legislation that relate to Nitrous Oxide, a by-product of many agricultural and industrial practises, as well as incinerators.

Nitrous Oxide is a particularly nasty one, the third most important greenhouse gas after Carbon Dioxide and Methane, and 300 times more warming than the former. It is truly alarming that ‘our’ government would make concessions to big business over emissions as damaging to the rest of us as this one.

Water purity is another area safeguarded by the EU. Without the EU breathing down governments’ necks, in return for access to markets, compliance on matters such as wastewater management are depressingly low. Even Norway, a wealthy, Scandinavian nation with reasonable environmental credentials, only complies around 50 per cent of the time, and because it’s not in the EU, it doesn’t get penalised for it.

Given how far down the line we are in terms of climate change, having step-changed from the stability of the Holocene to the volatility of the Anthropocene—the geological era defined by man-made environmental change—it is stunning how little the matter has entered everyday discourse.

We insist, it seems, on behaving as if no material change is coming, and matters relating to all our futures are left to politicians and committees and bureaucrats, like it was of less importance than the price of postage stamps.

It’s understandable, because no one wants to look it in the eye, and it is much nicer to imagine that the governments of the day will sort it all out. But they won’t, and Theresa May’s government won’t with a vengeance.

So where do you start? Maybe by talking to someone, and telling them how worried you are about…the environment. They may think you’re out of your mind. But more likely, they’ll agree with you.

And the more we say these things, the more they become part of what we talk about, and what we act upon.

Children are particularly puzzled as to why adults in their world don’t do anything about what is clearly an impending crisis, and why it’s hardly mentioned. To the extent that Childline’s web page includes climate change as one of the issues that frighten children the most.

We need to break our silence and bring these matters into the open, not least so that careerists and political egomaniacs don’t get away with trashing our future in our name.

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