IEMA members see benefit of the EU

12th May 2016


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Sarah Wormald

Brexit would damage businesses and likely lead to a less stable policy environment, according to the latest results from a members' survey on green issues around the EU referendum.

The UK leaving the EU would have a detrimental impact on the environment and sustainability profession, according to almost three quarters of members of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.

Some 70% also feel a vote in favour of leaving the EU on 23 June would have a negative effect on their business or organisation. Just 20% feel a vote to leave would have no impact, and only 10% say it would be beneficial.

The findings are the latest to be released from IEMA’s member survey on the potential impacts of the EU referendum. On Tuesday, it issued results showing members want the government to swiftly adopt the fifth carbon budget, for the years 2028–32, and not delay a decision for fear of aggravating pro-Brexit backbenchers just before the vote.

Some 1,569 people responded to the invitation-only survey, which is about 10% of IEMA’s membership. It was conducted from 5–9 May.

IEMA did not ask members how they intend to vote. It is an independent body that chooses to look at issues objectively and focus on the impact of politics rather than side with any party or campaign, a spokesperson said. However, the inference from the results is clear – most members are pro-EU, at least on environmental and sustainability issues.

Some 82% of respondents agreed with the statement: ‘the EU provides a policy landscape that is more stable and therefore potentially more effective for both businesses and the environment over the medium to long-term.’ And 78% said the UK is influential in the development of that policy landscape – countering Brexit arguments that it has little input. A large majority of respondents (82%) also felt that working within the EU gives the UK more influence over international environmental agreements.

However, responses to some questions show many members believe the UK could achieve some things at least as well by itself. For example, 57% said the UK is more likely to meet its long-term climate targets as part of the EU. But 43% said it would have at least an equal chance of meeting them after a Brexit. A similar split is evident when looking at the EU renewables directive, which requires 15% of UK energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. Only 45% said that renewables target is consistent with meeting wider climate objectives in a cost-effective way. Some 40% said UK implementation of the renewables target could be made more cost-effective, while 15% said the target imposes unnecessary costs the UK could do without.

The survey was anonymous, but talking to IEMA members suggests their views on the environment will influence the way they vote. ‘It’s extremely difficult unpicking the information from all sides,” said Colleen Theron, director of consultancy CLT envirolaw. ‘But I think I’ll end up voting to stay in, mostly due to the uncertainty that’d happen if we leave, and that’s especially true on the environment side where there’s four decades of policy to unpick.

‘Some things about the EU aren’t great – I have a lot of doubts about the bureaucracy – and certainly the people I speak to on a professional level all have that mixed view. But they all think if we leave it’ll be worse.’

Independent consultant Phil Cumming, who is a member of IEMA’s strategic advisory council, agreed. ‘We’re in a situation in the UK where we live in four-to-five year political windows but a lot of the most important issues, especially on sustainability, transcend a government. The EU gives us more long-term certainty and you don’t get that with this government – just look at all the u-turns on energy policy. We’re already in contravention of air and water quality [directives] and I think if we go out we’ll be heading back to the days when we had that nickname, the dirty man of Europe.’

‘When I talk to Brexiters, I always ask, “Is the situation really that bad?”’ he added. ‘Nobody is saying the EU is perfect, but for me, I can’t say it’s broken enough [to leave].’

The IEMA results echo those of another survey. In April, a Society of the Environment and ENDS Report survey found that 77% of environmental professionals would vote to stay in, and only 14% to leave.

Further results of IEMA’s survey will be released in coming weeks, with the next concerning issues including impact assessment, land use and the natural environment.

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