Scotland's place in Europe – protecting, maintaining & enhancing environmental standards

Scotland voted clearly and decisively to remain within the European Union. And we have demonstrated in 'Scotland's Place in Europe'[17] (2016) and its follow-up on 'People, Jobs and Investment'[18] (2018) that this is the best option for Scotland's future. Given the unprecedented need for strong, collaborative international action to address environmental challenges, the decision taken for the UK to leave the EU is a significant and unwelcome setback: creating uncertainty, draining resources and risking the progress achieved to date.

Much of the progress in environmental protection in Scotland and the UK has been driven and enabled by EU membership. Around 80% of our environmental legislation originates from the EU, driving up environmental standards. EU membership has also provided essential sources of funding, labour, scientific expertise and collective initiatives, like the Emissions Trading System, all of which have played an important role in delivering Scotland's environment and climate ambitions.

While Scotland did not vote for Brexit, we do now have to manage the consequences. The Scottish Government has committed in future to protecting, maintaining and enhancing EU environmental standards. We will ensure that the four EU environmental principles – polluter pays, preventative action, tackling pollution at source and the precautionary principle – continue to sit at the heart of Scotland's approach to environmental protection in the future.

Later this year, in line with commitments made by Scottish Ministers during the passage of the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, we will consult on how Scottish Ministers and public authorities will continue to have regard to the EU environmental principles once the UK exits the EU. This consultation will seek views on how the principles should be applied in practice, by Scottish Ministers in developing policies (including proposals for legislation) and by Scottish Ministers and other Scottish public authorities in exercising their functions.

We will also consult on arrangements for environmental governance, after the UK exits the EU, to ensure the continued effective monitoring and enforcement of environmental standards, given the UK government's intention to no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and other EU institutions. This consultation will build on the findings of the recent report by the Roundtable on Environment and Climate Change on 'Environmental Governance in Scotland on the UK's withdrawal from the EU'[19].

The feedback to this discussion paper will set a helpful strategic context to those consultations.

We are also continuing to press the UK Government on a range of priority areas in the EU-UK negotiations and future intra- UK arrangements to ensure Scotland can continue to deliver our environment and climate change ambitions. These priorities are summarised in Box 1.

Box 1: Environment and climate change priorities in the EU-UK negotiations

1. Safeguarding and expanding Scotland's devolved powers. Scotland has taken a more ambitious approach to environmental protection than the UK government on a range of areas, including climate change, the circular economy, air quality, river basin management planning, Natura 2000 designation, woodland creation and our position on fracking (subject to Strategic Environmental Assessment). We are also leading the way in the UK on tackling single use plastics. After the UK's exit from the EU, there must be no limitation on Scotland's ambitions for the environment. When repatriating powers from Brussels, the UK government must ensure that Scotland's devolved powers are maintained or expanded and any UK common frameworks must be negotiated and agreed with devolved administrations and not imposed.

2. Maintaining or exceeding EU environmental standards. Scotland is committed to maintaining or exceeding EU environmental standards and carrying forward EU environmental principles. It is also vital to ensure effective governance arrangements are in place to monitor and enforce these standards. We will consult later this year on post-Exit environmental governance in Scotland and the future application of EU environmental principles.

3. Ensuring future trading arrangements do not compromise standards. Scotland's interests would be best served by remaining within the European Single Market and EU Customs Union. Failing that, Scottish producers must be protected from third country imports produced to lower standards and there must be no weakening of standards as a condition of future trade agreements.

4. Maintaining funding for environmental outcomes at least at current EU levels. EU funding plays a crucial role in delivering Scotland's environment and climate change ambitions, supporting the sustainable management of our land and seas, providing investment for renewable energy and other low-carbon industries and promoting innovation through research and development. Post-Exit, funding for environmental outcomes must be at least maintained at current levels.

5. Protecting the rights of EU citizens and their contribution to our environment sector. EU nationals make a vital contribution to Scotland's environment sector, addressing skills gaps and fulfilling a broad spectrum of employment needs, including highly-skilled posts in areas such as hydroecology, environmental engineering, radioactive waste processing and low-carbon technologies. EU nationals also make an important contribution to the Scottish voluntary sector. Post-Exit, we need an immigration arrangement which allows Scotland to continue to recruit the best talent and meet our workforce needs.

6. Collaborating and demonstrating leadership on the international stage. Scotland is committed to playing our full role in tackling global environmental challenges and maintaining our international leadership on climate change and the circular economy. Ongoing co-operation at the European and international levels is essential to achieve this. We will press to ensure the UK remains party to all multilateral environmental agreements and that we can continue to participate in and influence EU collective action and wider international negotiations.

7. Participating in EU initiatives which are of mutual benefit. There is a range of EU initiatives where continued UK participation will be of mutual benefit, including EU energy and carbon markets; the regulation of chemicals and radioactive waste via REACH and EURATOM; data systems to prevent illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing; and the sharing of environmental data and scientific expertise. We will press to ensure that the UK continues to participate in these initiatives.


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