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15 April 2016updated 27 Jul 2021 11:35am

The environmental case for EU membership

From air pollution to climate change, the big environmental challenges faced by Britain in the 21st century are best tackled inside the EU.

By Kerry McCarthy

Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn set out Labour’s progressive and compelling case for staying in the EU. Covering everything from the economy and jobs, workers’ rights and the fight against international terrorism, he outlined why Britain and working people are better off and safer inside the EU.

He argued that you cannot build a better world unless you engage with the world, build allies and deliver change. Britain’s membership of the EU provides us with the international framework to do this; and when it comes to confronting the big environmental challenges of the 21st century, staying in Europe is crucial.

Over a third of the dirty air we breathe is blown in across the Channel; UK CO2 emission reductions alone will not avoid catastrophic climate change; and many of our iconic bird species face risks as they migrate across countries without significant laws to protect them.

The big environmental challenges do not respect borders. Contrary to what many Brexiters would have you believe, our island is not hermetically sealed from the problems that afflict the rest of the world. The big environmental challenges cannot simply be turned away at Calais.

Our EU membership gives us influence over our European neighbours, enshrines co-operation, and stops a race-to-the-bottom on environmental standards.

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From cleaner beaches, safer drinking water, limits on air pollutants, food that is free from harmful chemicals, vehicle exhaust standards, and wildlife protection; European rules go a long way to protect the UK’s environment and us.

And if you don’t like Maltese hunters shooting migrating birds before they breed; if you’re worried about Poland burning vast amount of coal and drastically increasing our continent’s CO2 emissions; if you want to put a stop to overfishing in the North Sea; and if you want to ensure that farmers on the continent stop pumping out toxic emissions that contribute to the UK’s air pollution crisis; then our EU membership gives us the leverage to act in the future.

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During the 1970s and 80s the UK earned the ignominious title of ‘the dirty man of Europe’. We spewed out the highest levels of acid rain-causing sulphur dioxide across the EU, our beaches were awash with sewage, and the water we drank could often contain an alarming cocktail of harmful chemicals. Since then, EU rules commonly agreed with our neighbours have gone a long way to ensuring successive UK governments have tackled these problems.

David Cameron’s willingness to concede ground on the environment to narrow-minded climate change sceptics on his backbenches should give everyone who cares deeply about the UK’s environment pause for thought.

His government has scrapped subsidies for renewable sources of energy at home, and lobbied against tougher limits of air pollution in Europe. If we left the EU would a Tory government sign back up to the environmental protections afforded by Europe?

By voting to remain we can guarantee the European regulations that have driven up environmental standards and given our country a cleaner bill of health.

By voting to remain we can continue to work with our partners on the international stage and confront the big environmental challenges that will define the future of the UK and the rest of the world.

Kerry McCarthy MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Seb Dance MEP is a member of the European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.