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Meg Kneafsey Argues Why The Environment Matters Most in Brexit Negotiations

In the months since the UK voted to leave the European Union and, during a time of political instability around the world, it is very easy for people to forget about the environment. I used to be guilty of this, prioritising more ‘interesting’ and ‘important’ global issues. However, as I’ve become more active in the fight for social justice, I have seen how the environment and climate change is one of the most pressing topics we as a global society need to adequately address. Indeed, hearing political leaders such as President-elect Donald Trump dismiss climate change – and therefore giving credence to people’s apathy towards environmental issues – is simply terrifying.

Human-induced climate change causes irreversible effects on our planet; it kills our wildlife and vital rainforests, it increases the risk of hunger by breaking down the food systems, it causes the sea levels to rise and uses up our resources that cannot be replenished. There is a scientific consensus that climate change needs to be tackled with 97% of climate scientists in agreement. Ultimately, climate change won’t just damage our environment beyond repair but will hold huge repercussions for humanity that will affect every walk of life. We simply cannot keep reducing environment targets to a side thought. As a young person, I am particularly considered about the consequences in my lifetime and future generations that my parent’s generations and those before it have created.

For many environment activists, leaving the EU signalled weaker protections for our environment  and thus often sided with Remain. Currently the EU has an action plan to tackle climate change with targets for all member states that include emissions, efficiency, and renewable energy – although their targets have not gone without critique for not sufficiently addressing the problem. We have been used to working with the EU to develop comprehensive climate change plans and the uncertainty of what happens next has been concerning.

Even the announcement that current EU law would be incorporated into the UK’s legal framework would not be enough due to the difficulties of transposing nearly one third of EU environmental regulations as stated by Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom.

Indeed, it’s not our own British wildlife we should only be considering. Climate change is something we cannot tackle in isolation. From the sea currents that help transport our dumped disposable plastic around the globe to the emissions pumped out by other countries into our shared atmosphere, what we do affects each other.

That, for me, is one of the reasons we cannot simply have our own laws to protect the environment, no matter how progressive they are. We need to be working with other nation states, not only within the EU, but around the globe. The only way that we can truly attack the most pressing issue of our time is to develop comprehensive strategies together.

As the Brexit negotiations continue, I want to see the UK make three important promises:

  • To ensure that the UK’s environmental laws not only remain as strong as the EU’s but to be even more progressive
  • To lead the fight against climate change through example
  • To keep working with our European and international neighbours on our joint environmental challenges

I believe that leaving the EU does not mean that we as a nation will abandon our commitment to the environment. In fact, I see this as an opportunity to define the UK as a climate change warrior and look forward to a greener, brighter future.