The Environmental Pillar has given a cautious welcome to the news that a deal has been reached between the UK and the European Union on the future relationship. Over the coming weeks the Pillar will be examining the text in detail to ensure that our common environmental standards, monitoring and enforcement are adequately provided for.
The problems posed by Brexit have always been about more than just trade – any divergence in future environmental standards between the UK and Ireland poses a grave risk to the environmental integrity of the island. The island of Ireland is a single biogeographic unit with shared landscapes, water sources, flora and fauna. Protecting this common environment is dependent on shared standards and co-operation between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This co-operation is threatened if either side rolls back any existing or future level of legal protections for the environment.
It is extremely frustrating that there will be little time for a comprehensive examination and debate on the agreement by the European Parliament. Over the coming years we and our colleagues in other countries will be pushing for effective monitoring and enforcement of this deal.
The Pillar also noted that while the debate over fishing was bitterly fought, environmental concerns were absent; consequently the deal will do nothing to protect European fish stocks and the marine environment, which remain extremely vulnerable to over-fishing.
We are in the midst of a climate and biodiversity crisis on the island of Ireland; both jurisdictions face similar challenges in addressing these crises. Cross border co-operation provides a real opportunity to improve the environment on an all-island basis through effective working of the Good Friday Agreement bodies.
The Pillar calls on the Governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland to work together to address these environmental challenges and to provide a robust enforcement mechanism to ensure nature is protected across the island.