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Leaving the European Union: Environment and Climate Change

Published Thursday, October 13, 2016

On 20 October 2016, the House of Lords will debate the future of environmental and climate change policy in the light of the EU referendum. This House of Lords Library briefing provides an overview of a selection of European legislation which relates to the environment and climate change, and outlines how it has been implemented in the UK. The briefing also briefly discusses the EU’s international commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This briefing does not provide an analysis of the potential impacts of the UK leaving the EU. However, it does include a selection of recent statements made by the Government on these issues.

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The EU’s authority to legislate for environmental protection has been enshrined in EU treaties since the Single European Act 1987. The Treaty of Lisbon 2009 amended the objectives of the EU’s policy on the environment to state that environmental requirements must be integrated into all EU policies and added an express reference to combating climate change. The powers of the EU to legislate in respect of the environment and climate change are set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The EU’s 7th Environment Action Plan sets out EU environmental and climate change policy plans up to 2020. It identifies three key objectives: protect, conserve and enhance the EU’s natural capital; turn the EU into a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy; and safeguard EU citizens from environment-related pressures and risks to health and wellbeing.

The EU has legislated on a range of environmental issues, including air and water quality, species and habitats protection, and waste management. A number of these directives have been transposed into UK law. In regards to climate change, the EU’s 2020 energy and climate change package, adopted in 2007, created a “binding set of legislation” to ensure the EU met its climate and energy targets for 2020. It is currently drafting legislative proposals to implement its 2030 climate and energy framework. In light of the EU referendum result, the UK Government has stated that while it remains a member of the EU “all rights and obligations of EU membership” would remain in force.

In December 2015, a conference of the parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Paris, and an agreement on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol was reached. The central objective of the Paris Agreement was to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC. The EU ratified the Agreement in October 2016, and UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has stated that the Government intends to complete the domestic procedures needed to ratify the Agreement by the end of the year.

Lords Library notes LLN-2016-0050

Author: Sarah Tudor

Topics: Climate change, Environmental protection, EU law and treaties

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House of Lords Library

The House of Lords Library delivers research and information services to Members and staff of the House in support of parliamentary business.