Environmental Professionals Back “Bremain”, Survey Finds

brexit-or-bremainA member survey from CIWM and an opinion survey carried out in the environment sector by the Society for the Environment (SocEnv) have added further weight to fears that UK environment policy would suffer if the UK was to exit the EU.

With debate on the EU referendum hotting up, and the timely publication of the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) report into EU and UK environmental policy, CIWM has been collating the results of a member survey on the matter, which had 500 respondents.

While CIWM’s broad membership and charity status mean that it will remain neutral, the Institution concurs with the EAC on the positive impact that the EU has had on sustainable waste and resource management over the last two decades and this view is clearly shared by its members.

Asked what impact EU waste and resource policy and legislation has had on waste and resources and the wider environment to date, almost 80 percent said very positive or positive, and between 60 and 70 percent felt continued membership of the EU would be equally beneficial. Over half also felt that EU policy in this area has been good for UK business as a whole and that this would continue to be the case if the UK stays in the EU.

Other respondents felt that the UK would still have to comply with existing EU requirements and standards as part of any renegotiated trade agreements or to continue to access Europe-wide markets for secondary materials or RDF, for example.

Reflecting widespread uncertainty about what the future outside the EU would look like in practice, only around 8 percent of respondents reported feeling confident that they fully understand what UK policy on waste and resources would look like in the event of a “Brexit”. In contrast, nearly 80 percent were confident that they had a full or good understanding of the future landscape if the UK remains in the EU.

In terms of other impacts, 65 percent of respondents felt that a “Brexit” would lead to greater divergence in environmental policy and legislation across the four UK countries. Concern was also expressed in the comment section that there could be a significant watering down of English ambition and policy in this area if the UK leaves, leading to an increasing performance gap compared to Wales and Scotland in particular.

Other respondents felt that the UK would still have to comply with existing EU requirements and standards as part of any renegotiated trade agreements or to continue to access Europe-wide markets for secondary materials or RDF, for example.

While the open comments remained broadly positive, some CIWM members were critical of EU environmental policy, with one respondent calling it an “outdated, politically-driven, ‘command-and-control’ approach”. Others questioned the fairness of the system, given that some countries are lagging well behind without any enforcement action by the Commission. 

Brexit Or Bremain?

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SocEnv survey voting intention results

The environmental profession strongly backs Britain remaining part of the European Union because the EU delivers higher environmental standards, according to “the widest and most detailed opinion survey” carried out in the sector, the Society for the Environment (SocEnv) has said.

Of 893 environmental professionals who responded to an online poll run from February to March, the margin for “remain versus Leave” is 85% to 15% (excluding those who still “don’t know” and who “will not vote”).

This is a higher margin than virtually any other significant group, SocEnv says, which says the survey shows environmental professionals’ pro-remain majority to be “pragmatic rather than ideological.”

Respondents believe that the EU delivers higher environmental standards (81% net positive), including on cross-border issues that cannot easily be tackled only at national level (77% net positive).

There is also strong belief that the EU provides a stable environmental policy foundation (69% net positive).

Commenting on the survey, ENDS Publisher, Nick Rowcliffe – “Our findings are based on a good cross section of the environmental profession. Environmental professionals have given a strong endorsement of the EU, not because they see it as perfect, but because they believe it is necessary.”

In contrast, respondents to the survey have relatively low trust in UK government institutions to protect the environment and sustainability, in particular the current Conservative UK government (63% net negative) (though the Welsh (18% net positive) and Scottish (15% net positive) administrations are seen as performing better).

There was some criticism in how the EU works, however. Overall agreement with negative adjectives such as wasteful and arrogant was 32%, whereas agreement with positive attitudes such as efficient and accountable was 23%.

Moreover, respondents saw the EU as failing on certain environmental matters. There is overall agreement that the Common Agriculture Policy (net 32%) and Common Fisheries Policy (net 13%) cause environmental harm. A significant majority is concerned that the EU’s free trade agenda will undermine environmental protection.

If the UK public votes to remain in the EU respondents see the highest priority as being an increase in national regulatory resources (82% strong or very strong agreement) and full enforcement of environmental rules (67% strong or very strong agreement).

Commenting on the survey, ENDS Publisher Nick Rowcliffe said: “Our findings are based on a good cross section of the environmental profession. Environmental professionals have given a strong endorsement of the EU, not because they see it as perfect, but because they believe it is necessary.”

“This is a pragmatic profession, united in a desire for further steps towards sustainability, calling for Britain to continue with what works, and for UK government institutions to do better.”

Society for the Environment CEO Dr Emma Wilcox said: “Professional competence is critical to good decision-making so I was pleased to offer SocEnv’s support to ENDS for this review. As the professionals at the coalface, our registrants make decisions that impact our environment and deal with European laws on a daily basis. Their views are credible and deserve to be heard. However, whether we remain in the EU or vote to leave in June our Chartered Environmentalists will continue working towards a sustainable future.”

A report on the survey findings is available HERE

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