Brexit: what’s next for the UK’s young sustainability professionals?

4th August 2016


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  • Devolved government ,
  • Environment agencies ,
  • Environment Agency ,
  • NIEA

Author

Michael Thakoordin

Now that the decision has been made to leave the bloc, practitioners involved in IEMA Futures, the body's project to develop understanding of the profession's future needs, strongly believe that the role of young sustainability professionals is more important than ever.

We are experiencing a time of great uncertainty as the UK begins the long, and complex process of reviewing its relationship with the rest of Europe and agreeing a deal on the terms of its departure. However, IEMA Futures does not see this uncertainty as negative when it comes to rallying for the environment. Rather, we believe this is an opportunity to ensure a post-Brexit UK aspires to develop innovative green businesses, generates sustainable growth, and plays a key role in environmental protection and climate change mitigation.

Brexit is not all about the environment, however. The referendum highlighted deep divisions in the country, with many who voted to leave doing so because they felt let down and left behind. As sustainability professionals our voice is also key to ensuring a safer and fairer UK, one in which everyone can achieve and make a positive impact.

As is well known, the EU is responsible for many of the regulations that help to protect the environment in the UK and it has helped to drive the development of many global agreements on climate change, such as that struck in Paris last year. However, the UK also has its own strong record on environmental protection, having played a key role on this since since joining the European community in 1973. The government’s recent decision to adopt the fifth carbon budget, which legally commits the UK to a 57% reduction in carbon emissions on 1990 levels by 2032, shows that, despite the leave vote, the UK is determined to maintain its leading position on climate change.

So, what could the UK lose by leaving the EU in terms of environmental regulation? One of the biggest debates is whether the UK will join the European Economic Area (EEA), which allows for the free movement of capital, goods, services and people, or opt for independent trade deals. Under membership of the EEA most EU laws would continue to apply in the UK. However, the EEA excludes the birds, habitats and bathing water directives and the common agricultural and fisheries policies. This is just one of many areas that practitioners could push to be included in any post-Brexit trade deals.

The vote to leave has left the UK’s political landscape arguably on the brink of the biggest period of change in decades, and it is up to the aspiring sustainability leaders of the future to make their voices heard. They need to push for even stronger environmental legislation and shape the sector they are entering. It is a unique opportunity to get a head-start on what can be achieved in their careers.

Those of us involved in IEMA Futures realise that, if we want to make the environment and sustainability a priority, we must do more to engage the public in the debate. The intention of the group is to connect, empower and inform young sustainability professionals. This is our mission because we understand that with togetherness and education come power and influence. We want to transform the world to sustainability, but we cannot do it alone. The more young sustainability professionals that join, the more likely it is that our voices will gain credibility and be heard by the government and policymakers. We have the potential to shape our futures and help to transform the world, and Brexit has given us a window of opportunity to carry our voices even further.


Written by Jack Buckley, Sophie Parsons and Natasha Yorke-Edgell on behalf of the IEMA Futures team. If you would like to find out more about IEMA Futures or get involved, go to the Linkedin group (bit.ly/29P1A1e) and send a message.


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