Post-Brexit cross-border cooperation crucial to protect the environment and tackle climate change, say leading environmental groups both North and South of the border
The need for cross-border cooperation will be crucial to protect the environment across the island of Ireland as Brexit looms closer, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement heard today.
The Committee heard from the Environmental Pillar – an advocacy coalition of 26 environmental organisations in the South – and the Northern Ireland Environment Link, the leading environmental organisation in Northern Ireland (NI).
This afternoon’s hearing focused on the implications of Brexit for NI’s Environment and shared cross-border environmental issues.
Both groups identified the potential loss of legislative protection for the natural environment as the single greatest environmental challenge posed by Brexit.
There are currently over 650 pieces of EU legislation in force to protect the environment, covering a range of policy areas such as flora and fauna conservation.
Environmental Pillar Coordinator, Michael Ewing told the Committee that it is relatively easy at present to co-ordinate the management of cross-Border special areas of protection, such as Lough Foyle, and special areas of conservation, such as the Pettigo Plateau-Tamur Bog.
He warned, however, that it would become much harder to do if the UK lessens or dilutes protections for habitats and species that we share with the North under various EU Directives. There are currently 295 species at risk of extinction from the island of Ireland.
In the absence of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, it is also unclear how environmental standards will be upheld post-Brexit, Mr Ewing said, especially as Northern Ireland does not have an independent Environmental Protection Agency.
Brexit may also put the security of NI’s energy supply at risk as it depends on the Single Electricity Market (SEM) for wholesale electricity within the island of Ireland. The issues of climate change, waste, and water and air pollution also warrant cross-border action.
A close cross-border working relationship is especially important for climate change adaptation planning and for successful implementation.
Mr Ewing outlined the many ways in which we are currently working on a cross-border basis to protect and enhance our environment, such as the All-Island Cooperation on Invasive Alien Species. In 2013, the estimated annual cost of invasive species to the economies of Ireland and Northern Ireland was €261,517,445.
Both nations are also coordinating the All-Island Pollinator Plan, collectively taking positive steps to protect our pollinators and the service they provide into the future. The plan provides an important framework to bring together pollinator initiatives from the North and South, especially pertinent as one-third of our bee species are threatened with extinction.
Environmental issues are outlined as one of six ‘Areas of Co-operation’ by the North South Ministerial Council, established under the Good Friday Agreement to develop consultation, co-operation and action within the island of Ireland.
Post-Brexit, it is of vital importance that we build upon this common approach to address environmental issues across the island of Ireland, Mr Ewing concluded.
Environmental Pillar Coordinator, Michael Ewing said:
“Both north and south, we share common geology, landscapes, water catchments, and flora and fauna. It is important that these are cared for in a consistent and coordinated way.
“It will be vital in a post-Brexit environment to ensure on-going cross-border environmental cooperation as nature does not recognise national boundaries.
“The challenges for the environment on both sides of the border, such as biodiversity loss, climate change, air and water quality remain the same now as before the UK voted to leave the EU.
“Whatever form Brexit takes, we believe that an on-going commitment is required for the provision of an all-island forum to minimise the threats to our natural environment. This will be vital in order to ensure the conservation of our shared natural heritage for future generations.
“The Environmental Pillar and the Northern Ireland Environment Link and are committed to working with our respective governments to ensure the best outcomes for our environment, whatever the mechanisms or political situation.
“Many environmental organisations have the experience and expertise to offer assistance in the time ahead and look forward to working on a local, regional, national and all-island basis to meet these environmental challenges.”
Committee Chairperson, Kathleen Funchion TD said:
“It is important in the ongoing discussion about Brexit and what it will mean for the North, that the environmental impact is not forgotten.
“The pollution limits and regulations set by the EU have had a significant influence on international environmental law.
“Our witnesses reiterated the importance of securing guarantees that post-Brexit, cross-border environmental cooperation will continue.”
Notes for Editor:
Joint Submission from the Northern Ireland Environment Link and the Environmental Pillar here.
About the Environmental Pillar:
The Environmental Pillar is a national social partner, comprising 26 national environmental organisations. It works to promote the protection and enhancement of the environment, together with the creation of a viable economy and a just society.
About Northern Ireland Environment Link:
Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL) is the networking and co-ordinating body for non-statutory organisations concerned with the environment of Northern Ireland. It has 70+ Full Member organisations, who represent more than 100,000 individual members, bringing together a range of knowledge and expertise across a wide range of environmental fields.