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Brexit Likely to Weaken UK Eco Rules, Study Finds

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Brexit Likely to Weaken UK Eco Rules, Study Finds
Swans at Fowlmere RSPB reserve in Cambridgeshire, where a chalk stream is one of the UK's rarest habitats. Airwolfhound / Flickr

The UK's vote to leave the EU in June of 2016 is often compared to the U.S. election of Donald Trump as part of a populist, xenophobic reaction against increasing globalization and business-as-usual politics. But is Brexit as much of a danger to the environment as Trump's presidency has turned out to be?


The UK isn't planning to withdraw from the Paris agreement anytime soon, but a March risk analysis commissioned by Friends of the Earth found that environmental protections are likely to weaken in any potential Brexit deal, The Guardian reported Thursday.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield, Queen's University Belfast and the University of East Anglia studied five different trade arrangements and 15 different environmental policies, and found that all posed a "very high risk" to birds and habitats, according to The Guardian.

Overall, a model that resembles Norway's close relationship to the EU was the best for the environment, and a "chaotic no deal" model that represents a total separation was the worst.

Every model except the Norwegian model would pose high risk or very high risk to water frameworks, urban wastewater, ground water, nitrates, climate and energy, ambient air quality, agri-environment, food and welfare standards, and fisheries and marine protection.

Air quality has in particular emerged as a major public health focus in the UK, as a parliamentary joint-inquiry in March called air pollution in the country "a national health emergency."

The study calls into question assurances from the UK government that Brexit would be "green."

In an opinion piece for Politico cited by The Guardian, the UK environmental secretary Michael Gove called Brexit "a chance to take back control of our environment." He held up a 25-year environment plan launched by UK Prime Minister Theresa May in January that "shows the way to Green Brexit and beyond."

But the risk analysis found the plan low on detail, and the details it did provide less ambitious than current EU law.

"The 25-year plan was depressing and concerning," analysis author and Sheffield University professor Charlotte Burns told The Guardian. "If the government is not tied down to strict standards, we will see waning investment in the environment and less capacity for NGOs to challenge what they do in the courts."

According to the executive summary of the analysis, Brexit could also weaken EU environmental policy, since the UK had lobbied for more aggressive climate change action and more eco-friendly agricultural practices.

To avoid backsliding, the summary recommended that the UK and EU write environmental regulations, such as an "environmental non-regression clause" into any new trade deals.

"We were promised that Brexit wouldn't harm our environment—but this analysis shows that under all scenarios currently on the table, this promise will be broken," Friends of the Earth's Kierra Box told The Guardian. "We hope this report will spur parliament to make much needed changes to the withdrawal bill currently in the process of going through parliament, to lock in guarantees for our environment that the report authors have found lacking so far," she said

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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