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Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, Brexit & the Environment – Report

Unleashing the full potential of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement could address some of the main risks posed by Brexit to the environment of the island of Ireland, a new report has found.

The independent report – commissioned by the Environmental Pillar and Northern Ireland Environment Link – examines the cross-border environmental co-operation supported by the Agreement.  Launched at an event at Leinster House today, the report stresses that firming up the structures and institutions set-up under the Agreement could minimise some of the negative impacts arising from the removal of the existing common EU regulatory standards.

Brexit poses a major environmental threat to the island of Ireland if there is not a common set of standards for tackling issues such as invasive species, emissions standards, water quality, and hazardous waste.

The report outlines several key threats posed by Brexit to our single bio-geographic region, namely:

  1.  Regulatory divergence that could lead to governance gaps and deterioration in standards, posing countless risks to biodiversity on the island.
  2. Weakening of legislative protection in the North caused by the loss of the EU’s oversight and enforcement mechanisms.
  3. Potential loss of significant stream of cross-border funding.
  4. Physical blockage of cross-border co-operation posed by a hard border scenario.

These obstacles could be tackled, through better use of the institutions established under the Agreement as a vehicle to maintain high standards in policy and regulatory alignment on the island, the report states.

The report also outlines several other recommendations that would help to preserve cross-border environmental co-operation in a post-Brexit world, namely:

  1. Setting up a robust and independent regulator for environmental compliance to address environmental governance issues in Northern Ireland.
  2. Setting up an all-island governance mechanism to hold both governments to account on environmental protection issues.
  3. Establishment of a broader all-island mechanism to monitor and facilitate cross-border co-operation under the Agreement, including on environmental issues.
  4. Prioritising the continuation of cross-border funding stream.
  5. Provisions in the future EU-UK agreement, including a commitment to regulatory alignment and effective oversight and enforcement.

The report states that finding a positive solution is largely dependent on the relationship formed between the EU and the UK, which could include high levels of regulatory alignment across most, if not all, areas of environmental policy.

“The natural world does not recognise borders, and flora and fauna will not conveniently confine their habitats to man-made political boundaries. This is the reason that the environment featured extensively in the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, as one of the nominated areas of cross-border co-operation.  It is important that the reality of island of Ireland’s shared environmental context is not ignored during the Brexit debate.  The institutions and mechanisms of co-operation created under the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement must be protected and maintained, and their full potential exploited, in order to enhance environmental protection on the island of Ireland,” said Alison Hough BL, Athlone Institute of Technology lecturer and author of the report.

“The latest Brexit deadline is rapidly approaching, and, to date, negotiations and discussions have barely touched on the potential negative impact on our natural environment.  The future relationship between the UK and EU must put environmental protection center-stage. This report highlights the challenges Brexit poses for environmental protection but articulates how some of these issues can be averted through continued cross-border cooperation and the maintenance of high environmental standards both North and South.  It is only by avoiding a hard environmental border that we can ensure our joint efforts to protect and enhance the environment for the benefit of all is not undermined as all environmental issues such as water quality, habitat and species loss have a strong cross border dimension.  Therefore, it is crucial it is recognised that the island of Ireland and its surrounding waters are a single bio-geographic unit, mechanisms must exist to effectively manage cross border environmental issues post Brexit,” commented Michael Ewing, Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar.

“There has been much discussion across the island of Ireland about the risks posed by Brexit, and about the potential impact on the structures created by the Good Friday Agreement.  The report shows how the GFA could help to bridge some of the gaps which Brexit could potentially open up. Whatever form of Brexit we end up with, it’s encouraging to know that there are already structures in place which could be utilised to strengthen future cross-border activities,” said Craig McGuicken, Chief Executive Officer of Northern Ireland Environment Link.

Source – Environmental Pillar

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