The UK will have to set up a powerful new environmental regulator after it leaves the EU to ensure future governments do not use Brexit to wriggle out of hundreds of green rules and laws, ministers have been warned.
The present government also needs to explain how it will replace billions of pounds of EU funding for low carbon infrastructure and research, according to a House of Lords report that lays bare an array of risks Brexit poses to UK environmental goals.
The job of policing and enforcing a vast number of rules on everything from air pollution and chemicals to wildlife and water quality has for decades been done by EU bodies such as the European Commission and courts.
The UK environment department says it is responsible for policies affected by more than 1,100 pieces of legislation and rules derived directly or indirectly from the EU.
Andrea Leadsom, environment secretary, and other ministers have insisted in recent months that UK courts, parliamentary committees and government standards will do just as good a job of keeping the environment safe once the UK leaves the EU.
But the report by the Lords’ EU energy and environment subcommittee says assurances that future governments “will in effect be able to regulate themselves” were “worryingly complacent”.
In fact, an “effective and independent domestic enforcement mechanism” will be needed to fill the vacuum left by European Commission in particular, it says. The US Environmental Protection Agency had been suggested as a potential model for such a body, it adds, along with the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations.
Number of pieces of green legislation and rules derived from the EU
Ministers are already preparing to axe EU legislation protecting creatures such as great crested newts in an effort to speed up development projects, the Financial Times reported last week.
Brexit also raises questions about the “significant funding” the UK receives from the EU for research and other activities such as managing the countryside and boosting low carbon infrastructure, peers said.
The European Investment Bank, for instance, had extended at least €6bn in loans since 2000 to green energy infrastructure in the UK and billions more to help combat problems such as flooding and river pollution.
“We invite the government to clarify whether this funding will continue in some form or be replaced domestically post-Brexit and, if so, for how long,” the report says.
On a more positive note, the Lords said Brexit offered the opportunity to bolster some environmental rules. The removal of EU state aid laws, for example, could open the way for more ambitious UK climate change policies.
Get alerts on Pollution when a new story is published