Impact of Brexit on Environmental Regulation

Ever growing populations contribute to climate change around the world which is why governments continue  to take huge steps to slow down the impact human activity is having on the planet. The signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in December 2015 just underlines how important it is with nearly every single country in the world agreeing to its terms. Countries signing the agreement agreed to take steps to reduce emissions, strengthen their ability to deal with the impacts of climate change and to avert, minimise and address the loss and damage associated with climate change.

As a major proponent of the Paris Agreement, the European Union have always viewed the reduction of climate change as an important goal. Over the last 40 years they have implemented a significant set of environmental laws and policies. These rules and guidelines cover areas such as noise, chemicals, pollution, water and air quality, waste, and nature conservation in addition to climate change.

As a member of the EU, the majority of the UK’s environmental laws and policies are based on European regulations and advice. Such rules must be followed for companies certified to ISO 14001, if they are applicable to their business, but what will happen now that the UK has chosen to leave the EU?

What will change?

It is difficult to know the exact changes that will occur until the negotiations have been completed, but experts such as the United Kingdom Environmental Law Association (UKELA) think that there are three possibilities:

  1. 1
    Continue to follow EU laws – should the negotiating team for Brexit manage to allow the UK to remain in the European Economic Area, the UK would still be obliged to follow EU laws. However, without being a member of the EU, the UK would have no input on any changes or future laws as they would not be able to vote on them.
  2. 2
    Preserve current laws and convert new ones – the UK may decide to keep existing environmental laws to assist trade with countries in the EU. Laws on waste management and greenhouse gas emissions targets are particularly relevant in this case because they must be followed by affected UK industries. For example, businesses wanting to export waste to EU countries.
    Future EU directives can easily be converted to UK law since they are enforced by UK based bodies, but EU regulations provide a challenge to convert as they are regulated by EU institutions. It is likely that this will be where the most change occurs.
  3. 3
    Develop new laws and policies – the UK may decide to make its own laws, perhaps dropping any EU regulations that parliament sees as interfering with trade. This could cause problems however, and take a long time to work out, as many of the EU laws also cover other international treaties and agreements which may need to be included in any new UK legislation

It’s important to note that some environmental laws do not come from the EU at all – such as the contaminated land regime under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 – and such legislation is unlikely to be affected by Brexit.

How should businesses prepare?

Businesses preparing for the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, that are certified to ISO 14001, should remember that until the UK officially leaves, nothing changes – all applicable laws and regulations are still in place. But as soon as the date comes that they UK officially leaves the EU, it is at this point that you will need to implement changes to your management system and any affected processes.

To prepare for the change, you should consider what environmental laws, regulations or directives currently affect your business and if these encompass operators and markets outside of the UK. Good examples of this are the EU Emissions Trading System and producer responsibility regulations such as Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH). Consider how these obligations are currently covered by UK law and you will be able to get a reasonable idea of how things will change, if at all, once the UK leaves the EU.