Brit Voters Need EU Sustainability and Environment Information

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There are two weeks remaining before Britain’s voters take to the polls to decide whether or not the UK will stay in the EU. IEMA have been conducting polls throughout the build up to gauge how much information is available to voters. In their final poll, 86% of participants still say they don’t know enough to be able to take environment and sustainability issues into account.

The majority of IEMA members polled during the past week believe both the Vote Leave and Vote Remain campaigns have poorly addressed environment and sustainability issues in the lead up to the referendum, despite 75% of respondents thinking that these issues will be at least of some importance in voters’ minds when they cast their vote. 87% believe that these issues should receive a higher profile in the time remaining before 23 June.

Martin Baxter, IEMA’s Chief Policy Advisor said: “The decision on whether the UK remains or leaves the EU is important in terms of environmental protection. Whatever the outcome of the ballot, it is essential that voters have sufficient information to be able to factor these issues into deciding how they cast their vote.”

Almost 1,200 members responded to the third and final of IEMA’s online polls to test views on different aspects of UK/EU environmental policy.  The majority of respondents (over 90%) cite environment and sustainability factors as a consideration in how they will vote.  Over half of respondents (51%) have had to provide information to friends and family on the potential environmental implications of the UK leaving the EU in the absence/minimal level of information provided by the Vote Leave and Vote Remain campaigns.

For the UK to transition to a circular resource economy, 67% believe that this is best achieved by implementing the European Commission’s Circular Economy package of measures, rather than developing UK specific measures (33%).  Two thirds of respondents believe that if the UK were to leave the EU, performance against waste and recycling targets would either decline or improve at a slower rate than is currently being achieved.

When asked at what scale action to generate a circular economy is best initiated, the poll revealed the following (respondents were asked to select up to 3 options):

  • 59% at the EU level
  • 57% at the national level (e.g. UK wide)
  • 38% at the global level (e.g. UN, WTO initiatives)
  • 35% by sector initiatives (e.g. trade bodies)
  • 32% at the organisational level
  • 16% by devolved administrations

Collaboration is a key element in making positive progress in the sustainable management of resources.  71% of respondents who expressed a view believe that opportunities for business collaboration to transition to more circular resource economy modes of operation would be reduced if the UK leaves the EU.  Although only 21% believe their sector is doing enough towards achieving a circular economy, this represents a significant improvement over the last 12 months (up from the 12% reported in the lead up to the 2015 UK General Election).

Air pollution remains the number one environmental cause of death in the EU. It leads to around 400,000 premature deaths each year across the region due to elevated levels of fine particles and ozone. Air pollution also continues to harm ecosystems as more than half of the EU territory is exposed to excess nitrogen deposition (eutrophication) and ozone concentrations.

Half of environment and sustainability professionals believe that legal standards for UK air quality would be reduced if the UK were to leave the EU.  88% of respondents think that the EU policy approach is needed to complement and support national level policies in addressing air pollution.

Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) is an EU Regulation which addresses the production and use of chemical substances and their potential impacts on both human health and the environment.  In terms of the relative costs/benefits of the EU (REACH) approach to regulating chemical substances and their use:

  • 34% of those who expressed a view think that the overall environmental benefits of REACH outweigh the costs to business and consumers
  • 44% believe that the overall environmental benefits of REACH are balanced by the costs to business and consumers
  • 22% believe that the cost to business and consumers of REACH outweigh the environmental benefits

In terms of effectiveness, 94% of environment and sustainability professionals with experience of REACH believe it is a very effective or moderately effective in regulating and controlling the use of chemical substances.