Brexit: Bad for your health and bad for the environment

The UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, which brings together major health institutions including the Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Physicians, Faculty of Public Health, and Royal College of Nursing, considers a vote for Britain to “remain” in the EU as important for the protection of our health, environment, and tackling climate change.

It is well know that the environment and public health are inexorably linked. We are unable to have healthy people in a sick planet. There are wide-ranging impacts from poor environmental health, for example air pollution causes 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year. Polluted air and waters, flooding, and heat waves increase the burden on our health services through increased admittance, staff absence, and health infrastructure not being able withstand the impacts of extreme weather. Policies and targets from the EU have substantially improved the quality of our air, water, soil and beaches, and have provided a stronger response to climate change. Leaving the EU threatens to weaken environmental policies, damaging the health of our environment and citizens.

EU membership has seen many advantages for Britain. In an open letter to UK environmental secretary, Liz Truss, 14 signatories, including four former chairs of environmental agencies, outline how it has been critical for improving the quality of beaches, the air, and habitats for wildlife. They conclude that we “will be better able to protect the quality of Britain’s environment if we stay in Europe.”

Being part of the European Union has allowed us to coordinate action and agree on policies that improve the air we breathe, the soil beneath us, and the seas between us. These are issues that are not confined by national boundaries.

Higher manufacturing standards have provided a wider range of greener products, from more efficient whites goods to cars, and fewer toxic chemicals in household goods.

Transitioning to low carbon technology will be necessary to keep global warming below 2C, as outlined in the Paris Agreement. This will lead to technological innovation and business opportunities. Brexit could see the UK sidelined from such opportunities.

EU and UK energy and climate policy are intertwined, therefore Brexit would pose some major issues and possibly a weakened commitment to emissions reduction and ability to transition to low carbon energy. Domestic climate legislation binds the UK to a similar emissions reduction trajectory as the EU; it remains uncertain what will happen to this.

Through joint action we are better able to mitigate climate change. Nations can have limited influence alone, but together the ability to tackle climate change is enhanced. Being a strong bloc has allowed the EU to have an influential voice within international negotiations on global environmental issues.

No one knows how many environmental laws would be lost after Brexit, it could take many years to negotiate new deals, and it is hard to determine which environmental agreements would remain. However, we do know that collective action is necessary to mitigating climate change and that the UK will be stronger for managing the risks of climate change by remaining a member of the EU.

Nick Watts, Director, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.

Sophia David, Policy and Communications Officer, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.

Competing interests: None declared.