The Environment

Climate Change

Climate change is real, and is happening.  The EU is a world leader in taking measures to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (the “tipping point” at which scientists agree irreversible effects will follow): the successful climate agreement in Paris will ensure that all countries play their part with their own national targets for emissions reductions, with the aim of a net zero carbon world after 2050.

The EU has a triple target for 2020, known as the “20–20–20” targets: 20% reduction of carbon emissions compared to 1990, 20% of energy to come from renewables, and a 20% increase in energy efficiency. Scotland is playing its part in helping meet these targets and, in 2014, Scottish carbon emissions had fallen by 39.5% compared to 1990.[1] In 2015, 59.4% of our electricity came from renewables compared with 12.2% in 2000.[2]  Discussion has already started on targets for 2030, with the EU setting a goal of a 40% reduction in carbon emissions, a 27% share for renewables in energy, and an energy efficiency target of 27% compared to 1990.  By giving long term certainty to industry across the entire EU single market we can help promote the transition to a low carbon society and spur investment in low carbon technologies and renewables, a huge growth area for Scotland’s economy – the growth of which is now hindered post-Brexit. 

Scotland led the EU in setting ambitious environmental targets.  Scotland reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 29.9% from 1990 to 2012 against an EU average of 18.5%.[3]

The EU’s climate change policy was good for Scotland.  We all have much to gain from tackling climate change, not only in the environmental sense but also economically. Over 11,000 jobs in Scotland have already been created in the renewables industry.[4]

EU funding ploughed millions of Euros into Scottish energy projects: for example, €20 million for the world’s largest tidal stream energy array in the Sound of Islay[5], and €40 million to help build an electricity interconnector between Scotland and Norway.[6]  Upcoming work in Brussels on creating a genuine Energy Union, promoting indigenous European energy sources and boosting interconnections between member states, can only help Scotland’s ambition to be the EU’s green powerhouse. 

Climate change is a problem which can only be solved through continental and trans-national cooperation.  The EU is the European forum by which sovereign countries can come together to find common solutions and ensure a level playing field. 

[1] ‘Key Scottish Environment Statistics 2016’, The Scottish Government, October 2016.

[2] High Level Summary of Statistics Trend Last update: Thursday, December 22, 2016 Renewable Energy’, The Scottish Government, December 2016.

[3] Figures from June 2014. Taken from ‘Scotland’s Agenda for EU Reform’, The Scottish Government, October 2014.

[5] ‘Ocean energy receives funding under NER300’, EU Commission SETIS Magazine, May 2013

[6] ‘UK energy projects awarded €75 million of European funding’, The UK Government, 30 October 2014.

[8] ‘Energy in Scotland: Get the facts’, The Scottish Government. 

Protecting the Environment

Environmental regulations have been a central part of European co-operation since the 1970s.  Economic growth must go hand-in-hand with a cleaner environment which allows people to fully enjoy the benefits of a higher standard of living, through clean air, water, areas of natural beauty and better health.

Pollution crosses borders, through undermining our natural environment, can actually destroy the basis for economic growth and well-being – the nuclear accident at Chernobyl being the most dramatic example.  We do not see a trade-off between the economy and the environment: on the contrary, the two are inextricably interlinked, and the single market must continue to be underpinned by strong environmental legislation.

EU environmental laws have been agreed not only to protect consumers but also to “ensure the careful use of natural resources, to minimise adverse environmental impacts of production and consumption, and to protect biodiversity and natural habitats.”[1]

EU environmental legislation covers a wide range of fields.  The most prominent are[2]:

  • Air quality – Agreeing limits to the amount of toxic air pollutants which can be emitted in member states, such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide.
  • Water quality – Improving the state of our water supplies, from river basins to drinking water to bathing water.
  • Chemicals – Ensuring the most harmful chemicals, including the worst pesticides, are banned in the EU, and that new chemicals must go through a robust assessment process before being approved.
  • Biodiversity – Legislation which protects rare birds and creates a network of special protected habitats, which cover 18% of the EU’s land area and 6% of its marine area.  In 2011, there were 239 Special Areas of Conservation in Scotland designed to protect 56 types of habitat, and 153 Special Protection Areas for 81 species of bird.[3]
  • Waste – Setting targets to reduce significantly the amount of waste sent to landfill, improve EU recycling rates and create a “waste hierarchy” to ensure that as little is wasted and as much re-used as possible.
  • Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) – Requiring that the most major transport, energy and other projects undergo EIA’s before they can be approved. 
  • The EU also funds environmental projects across Europe through the LIFE programme. Since 1992, LIFE has co-financed over 4000 projects with over €3.4 billion from the EU budget.[4] This includes projects in the UK: up to €30 million being provided in January 2016 to help the UK implement River Basin Management Plans which should help to improve water quality and prevent flooding.[5]
  • An example of how sustained EU action on the environment can produce real results is bathing water quality. Since 1976, EU legislation has required member states to both monitor and clean up bathing water (both inland and coastal) in their territory: this covers over 21,000 locations throughout the EU. Improvements have been dramatic: for inland bathing water, in 1991 less than 40% of sites were considered of excellent quality,[6] but 2016 saw 96.3% of all EU bathing water locations meet minimum standards, with 85% rated as excellent.[7]
  • Much of EU environmental legislation is based on international guidelines and standards, such as standards of drinking water and recommendations on nitrate levels.[8] If the UK were to leave the EU, these standards would still apply. This is particularly relevant if the UK still wanted access to the EU single market: Norway, although not an EU member, must implement large parts of EU environmental legislation, such as on pesticides and the Nitrates Directive.[9] Norway is also required to implement the REACH Directive on chemicals, and all without a voice in its formation and reform.
  • We believe that Scotland’s interests lie in working within the framework of European environmental legislation and, through being a full member of the EU, to help to shape it. By doing so we not only continue to enjoy the benefits of these regulations, but our exporters gain economically from only having to follow one set of regulations instead of 28.
  • [1] ‘EUR-Lex Environmental Law Summary’.
  • [2] See the website of DG Environment for more information.
  • [3] Scottish Natural Heritage, Natura.
  • [4] EU LIFE programme website.
  • [5] EU LIFE programme website, News, January 2016.
  • [6] European bathing water quality in 2014, EEA Report, No 1/2015.
  • [7] European bathing water quality in 2016’, EEA Report, 2017.
  • [8] Exiting the EU: impact in key UK policy areas? ’, House of Commons Research Paper, no. 7213, 4 June 2015.
  • [9] ‘UK’s Farming Relationship with the EU’ NFU, 2015.