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Protecting the environment should be a cross-party goal

This opinion piece is about 7 years old

​Daphne Vlastari says all political parties must be made to pledge themselves to environmental protection

On 8 June, the people of Scotland will have to go to polling stations for the second time this year.

This time to vote for their representatives in Westminster, for what is arguably one of the most important general elections given the UK parliament's role in scrutinising the great repeal bill and future relationship the UK will have with the EU.

And while a number of important decisions lie ahead from migration to access to EU markets, one thing should be unequivocally clear: protecting our environment and rigorous actions towards a more sustainable and low carbon economy should be a common cross-party goal.

All parties should commit to that and work together to achieve those goals. It is with this in mind that Scottish Environment Link members have put together their manifesto for the general election.

Protecting our environment and action towards a sustainable, low carbon economy should be a cross-party goal

Daphne Vlastari
Daphne Vlastari

The rationale behind our asks is clear: EU law has underpinned our environmental protections and EU action has provided necessary impetus for sustainability. For most of our environment policy, as well as agriculture and fisheries, these laws have been applied across the UK in line with what the devolution framework prescribes.

So the upcoming general election needs to provide some much needed certainty in these points.

First, we need to incorporate existing standards and core principles of EU environmental protection into domestic law.

All the legislation that protects our environment, such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, in favour of which a fierce public campaign was recently mounted across the UK, as well as the preambles that shed light on the interpretation of these laws, need to be transposed into domestic law.

This should not be seen as an opportunity for deregulation. Similarly, EU principles such as the precautionary principle or the polluter pays principle need to continue to form the basis of national environmental law in the future.

Second, with EU protections firmly part of our domestic law, there is still a need to build on those to meet our commitments under the UN 2030 Agenda. All policies, including agriculture and fisheries as well as our wider economic strategy, need to deliver towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Third, regardless of the future relationship of the UK with the EU, the UK needs to continue to uphold intentional treaties and agreements on biodiversity, climate change, marine protection and others.

Given that for the majority of these agreements, the EU has functioned as the mechanism through which obligations were met, there is now a need to consider which domestic mechanisms will need to be put in place across the UK to continue to meet international obligations.

Fourth, given that environment policy is devolved, as is largely the case with agriculture and fisheries policies, it is important that in the context of negotiations with EU partners, any UK position reflects the interests of all four nations.

Substantive discussions with all relevant governments and parliaments in the UK need to also be initiated in the context of the great repeal bill process.

Fifth, there is a pressing need to ensure that EU funding that has helped deliver environmental benefits and promoted the uptake of sustainable practices continues.

Equally critical is continued access to EU research institutes so that we can continue being part of the knowledge that is generated about our environment.

Daphne Vlastari is an advocacy officer at Scottish Environment Link.