It’s been four years since UK citizens voted on the referendum to withdraw from the European Union, but it’s finally becoming a reality. The UK Parliament formally ratified the withdrawal agreement on Jan. 31, and after a transition period that ends on Dec. 31, the UK will officially leave the EU behind. As the process moves forward, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is making some changes of his own, especially concerning the environment.
What changes will take effect as the UK takes those final steps to leave the EU? And, what impact will these shifts have on the environment?
Build, Build, Build!
2020 has been a challenging year thus far, thanks to the global coronavirus pandemic that’s left many world leaders struggling to make the right decisions for their citizens. The UK economy shrunk by more than 20% in April, as lockdowns took effect to combat the spread of the virus. To counter this, the prime minister announced a plan to reinvigorate the country’s economy, and we can sum it up in three words — build, build, build.
On paper, this looks like a good thing. Johnson is fast-tracking more than £5 billion in planned infrastructure projects, creating jobs and stimulating the economy. Environmental groups are worried that the prime minister is taking all the necessary precautions to bolster the economy while protecting the iconic English countryside. The government promised a “green Brexit,” but these plans seem to be supporting anything but.
Impacts on the English Countryside
All these new projects will undoubtedly help move the economy forward, but at what cost? The prime minister blames environmental red tape for holding up development. “Newt-counting delays are a massive drag on the prosperity of this country,” said Johnson, though he campaigned on a green manifesto back in 2010. Trying to cut through all the red tape will weaken the environmental protection that keeps the country’s air, earth and water pristine.
It also appears to be the exact opposite of what the public wants. Currently, 93% of polled Conservative voters either want to keep the environmental regulations the way they are or make them even stricter. The goal here needs to include finding a balance between boosting the economy and protecting the English countryside, not sacrificing one for the other.
New technologies are emerging daily to lessen our collective impact on the environment, from solar irradiation to treat drinking water to more efficient recycling techniques to reduce the amount of plastic ending up in landfills and oceans. Perhaps, instead of investing solely in infrastructure and building projects, the best way to boost the English economy in the wake of a pandemic is to also invest in technologies that can protect the environment while making life easier and safer for the people who live here.
Brexit is looming, but in the meantime, environmental protection groups are just short of begging the UK government to stick to its promise of a green exit from the EU. These circumstances give the UK a unique opportunity to take tighter control of its environmental policies and have a real say in how it protects the land, water and air.
While everyone is struggling to cope with the new normal of the coronavirus pandemic, we can only hope that the prime minister chooses to listen to the people and doesn’t squander this chance of a lifetime. The world is a big place, but there is only one United Kingdom, and it’s up to citizens to stand up and protect it, even if it seems like those in charge want to do the opposite.
About the Author: Emily is a green tech writer who covers topics in renewable energy and
sustainable design. You can read more of her work on her blog, Conservation Folks.