EU rules boost environment standards

13th February 2014

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Paul Medley

Businesses, politicians and think tanks agree that European legislation has improved the UK's environmental performance, but concerns remain over competitiveness

Defra and Decc have published the results of the consultation examining the balance of power between EU and UK legislators when it comes to protecting the natural environment and tackling climate change.

Representatives from industry, academia, non-governmental organisations and parliament contributed to the review, which asked about the impact of EU environment legislation on the UK’s economy, whether elements of regulation would be better managed at the national level and what improvements could be made to European regulations.

Overall, stakeholders agreed that EU regulation had improved environmental standards in the UK, raised the ambition of national policies aimed at mitigating climate change and helped to provide the long-term certainty needed for investment in low-carbon technologies.

Legislation related to waste and ecodesign were also seen by many respondents as providing benefits to business by improving resource efficiency and supporting new environmental products and services.

“EU targets on waste and climate change were seen by many as providing greater certainty for investors and an important spur for growth,” states the review. “In addition, EU regulation on chemicals and other environmental standards was also seen by many businesses as important in proving a level-playing field across the single market.”

However, concerns were raised over the perceived administrative and cost burden EU rules place on UK companies, particularly small businesses and those in energy-intensive industries. Compliance with REACH and planning requirements were cited as key areas of concern.

Some respondents questioned the need for EU policies on environmental issues that were contained within national boundaries. Land-use planning, noise, soil protection, flooding and environmental crime were areas that stakeholders thought would better managed by UK legislation.

The review touched on the current revision of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directive, with groups including the British Aggregates Association, Energy UK and the Environmental Services Association raising concerns that that proposals would “swing the balance of competence too far towards EU level control and slow down UK planning processes”.

Conversely wildlife and conservation groups, including English Heritage, the Wetlands and Wildlife Trust and WWF, argued that EIA rules helped to protect important historical environments, natural habitats and species.

IEMA, which contributed to the consultation and is cited in the review, welcomed the report’s recognition that it is in the UK’s national interest for certain environment and climate change policies to be determined at the European level.

Martin Baxter, IEMA’s executive director of policy, commented: “It is essential that the costs of environmental damage and pollution are internalised in the European single market to create a level playing field, ensure environmental protection and deliver a sustainable economy.”

Baxter argued that a more structured approach to developing environmental skills was urgently needed in European policies related to the environment and climate change.

“For many areas of environmental policy, significant improvements can be achieved through people who apply appropriate environmental skills and competence. However, this rarely forms the basis of implementation plans at national and European level,” he said.

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