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UEA environmental scientists help shape the post-Brexit landscape

Andy Jordan

Impartial research carried out by a team of University of East Anglia (UEA) researchers into the environmental impact of EU membership has been given the “Insight of the Year” award at the 2017 ENDS Environmental Impact Awards. Their wide-ranging study directly informed last year’s referendum debate and now, with Brexit negotiations under way, is helping to shape the UK’s environmental future outside the EU.

“We’ve spent more than 20 years studying how the EU has affected the quality of life in the UK and are delighted to have won this award alongside colleagues from the University of York and Queens University Belfast,” said Prof Andy Jordan, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences.

The research was praised for showing “great thought leadership which will deliver clear benefits”.

“Despite more than 40 years of EU membership, there were very few people, even within Whitehall and Parliament, who fully appreciated the impact of the EU on environmental policy when the EU referendum was called in 2016,” said Prof Jordan. “Our impartial evidence influenced discussions in Parliament and the wider public sphere, and enabled environmental NGOs to explain the issue to their supporters and politicians. Many politicians, including the Prime Minister David Cameron, responded by citing environmental protection as a reason to vote Remain.”

Now the election is over and Brexit discussions have actually begun, this work is proving to be more important than ever.

“The EU has been particularly active in environmental policy, from setting standards on water pollution in the 1970s to developing climate change policies in the 2000s,” said Prof Jordan. “Our research demonstrated the positive impact of the EU in driving improvements. Now that the future of UK environmental policy and protection is in question, we’re continuing our work to clarify what’s really at stake as Brexit unfolds.”

The researchers have presented their evidence to the House of Lords, the House of Commons, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Irish Assembly and industrial associations. They are also working with Greener UK, a cross-NGO campaign with more than eight million members, to highlight risks and identify solutions.

The team is currently working to inform public debate and understanding around some of the many opportunities and new challenges that Brexit will create. For example, post Brexit the UK Parliament will have an opportunity to weaken national standards and avoid compliance pressures from the EU Court of Justice in areas such as urban air quality, where the UK is under legal pressure from the EU to make faster progress.

Environmental NGOs, on the other hand, tend to focus on the threats of Brexit - for example the UK fast-tracking the release of genetically-modified crops and foodstuffs and the exploitation of shale gas.

“Wrapped up in Brexit are some complicated policy choices, that could significantly shape environmental quality for decades to come”, explained Prof Jordan.  “Our role is to provide impartial scientific knowledge and advice, covering many different dimensions - the environment, energy and climate change through to agriculture and fisheries. We want to open up the debate to include as much informed opinion as possible around the opportunities and the challenges.”

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