Environment and air quality regulations will stay in place post-Brexit, but action is needed to prevent uncertainty in the sector, according to Michael Jacobs, acting associate director for energy, transport and climate at the IPPR.
Speaking at the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) annual conference yesterday (30 June), Mr Jacobs said the air quality regulations, including the Ambient Air Quality Directive, are transposed into UK law and as such the limits – set by the EU – will remain even after the UK leaves the Union.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a leading London-based think tank and registered charity promoting, produced independent research on a range of local and national policy debates.
But despite retaining the air quality limits ‘we are currently breaching,’ Mr Jacobs claimed there will be two major weaknesses in a UK regime outside the EU.
He said: “One is that we will no longer be fined by the European Commission if we are in breach of those regulations. We know that it is the threat of fines which has pushed governments into doing more for air quality.
“They’ve not succeeded in pushing governments to do enough, but nevertheless the threat of fines from the European Commission has been an important part of the process.â€?
Mr Jacobs noted that under EU legislation, UK litigants– particularly Client Earth, which has taken the government to court over illegal levels of air pollution– have been allowed to go to the supreme court of the UK. The role of the courts will be less clear in a system outside the EU, Mr Jacobs warned.
“The second weakness of being outside the EU even though [the regulations] stay in place, is that the government could weaken. And if the EU strengthens we will not be part of that process automatically,â€? Mr Jacobs said.
“There is no question that in air quality the regime will be weaker outside the EU, but it does not disappear completely.â€?
The politics around air quality have been ramped up in recent years, Mr Jacobs said, pointing to the efforts of Sadiq Khan, who has been vocal about improving air quality in the capital, but also to cities like Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, where “you’ll see increasing pressure to do something about the problem of air quality- which is estimated to kill about 40,000 people a year.â€?
Instead, rather than a weakening in policy, Mr Jacobs warned of a weakening in the compliance regime.
Mr Jacobs added: “All is not lost as a result of the referendum and vote, and we should not allow those people who would like to get rid of climate policy, low carbon policy and environment policy, to say that it is – that it all comes from the EU and now that we are out we can, or should, or will have to get rid of it.
“It seems to me incumbent upon those of us who support this general policy mood to protect the environment and deal with climate change that we should act in as far as we can to protect what a combination of EU politics and UK politics have built up over the last 40 years.
Commenting that the next few years will marked by uncertainty in the British economy, Mr Jacobs said: “Under circumstances of general uncertainty, if I were the government of any kind, whoever the next prime minister is, I would be seeking to minimise the uncertainty in areas where it is not necessary.
“We have been hit by an earthquake, there is no question about that, but not every building needs to be pulled down.”