Article 50

A defining moment for UK environment and sustainability

The UK’s decision to trigger Article 50 notification to leave the EU is monumental, a defining moment of our time. Uncertainty, risk, opportunity – there is the potential to position the UK for long-term sustainable success, mixed with concern that we will enter a long period of decline.

We must ensure that high environmental and sustainability standards underpin the UK’s future outside the bloc because they are core to long-term prosperity. The focus of Brexit needs to be on delivering economic and social value in a way that is low-carbon, resource-efficient, enhances natural capital and respects human rights.

EU treaties, regulations, directives, decisions and communications have played a significant role in setting the legal framework for UK environmental protection. Transposing this body of law through the Great Repeal Bill into 

the UK’s domestic legal framework will be a significant challenge.  Over the long term, this also offers an opportunity to explore more effective ways of achieving positive environmental outcomes.

However, IEMA has significant concerns in several areas, including air quality, renewable energy and chemicals regulation. The UK already breaches EU air quality standards – Brexit must not be used to downgrade laws that are vital to protecting human health.  

Core environmental principles – those of the polluter pays, proximity and precautionary – are at the heart of the EU treaties and the functioning of the single market. These constitutional protections must continue to guide UK policymakers and legislators and be safeguarded in UK law. On leaving the EU, the UK will be free to negotiate bilateral or multi-lateral trade deals.

These must not be used to downgrade domestic environmental standards, nor should they be used as a back-door route to substandard imports that undermine the UK’s climate change commitments and broader goal of enhancing the value of natural capital over a generation.

IEMA will harness the passion, enthusiasm and expertise of its members to inform on the best way forward for environment and sustainability and ensure the profession plays a full and active role in the months and years ahead.


Martin Baxter is executive director of policy at IEMA. He also leads the UK delegation to ISO on all environmental standards and chairs the environmental accreditations panel within UKAS, the UK accreditation body.

Follow him on twitter @mbaxteriema

Back to Top