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    Jul 2020 right left


    Energy Efficiency in Business

    Tuesday 7th July


    North–South cooperation vital… 16 July 2019

    EU Committee told that North–South cooperation will be vital for the health of our environment post Brexit


    Patrick Casement, Chairman of NIEL (right) and Michael Ewing,
    Coordinator of Environmental Pillar (left) speaking at a recent conference on Brexit

    The UK’s looming EU exit may have serious consequences for crucial cross–border cooperation to protect our environment, an all–Ireland coalition of environmental NGOs will tell the European Parliament today.

    Chair of Northern Ireland Environment Link (NIEL), Patrick Casement, will speak alongside other experts from across the EU at a public session of the Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). [1]

    Representing the views of both NIEL and its southern counterpart, the Environmental Pillar, Mr Casement will stress that the crucial role played by cross–border cooperation in effectively addressing biodiversity loss and climate change risks being undermined by a hard Brexit. [2]

    In order to avoid a hard environmental border on the island of Ireland, Mr Casement will recommend that any agreement reached under the Article 50 process must maintain effective cross–border environmental cooperation and an all–island level playing field post–Brexit.

    The coalition welcomed a resolution from the Parliament in October which stated that the Brexit agreement must be “fully consistent” with the areas of cooperation agreed under the Good Friday Agreement – including the environment. The Parliament’s previous resolution on Brexit in April also highlighted the importance of continued adherence to environmental standards. [3]

    A recently leaked memo produced by the Article 50 taskforce that leads the Brexit negotiations on behalf of the EU calls for the UK to “commit to ensuring that a hard border on the island of Ireland is avoided, including by ensuring no emergence of regulatory divergence from those rules…necessary for meaningful North South cooperation, the all–island economy and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.” [4]

    The Irish Government has also publicly outlined the importance of avoiding post–Brexit regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. [5]

    Today, over 650 pieces of EU legislation act as the principal drivers of environmental protection on the island of Ireland. These common standards have resulted in a more coordinated and consistent approach to addressing key issues such as the conservation of species and habitats on an all–island basis. [6]

    Mr Casement will emphasise the importance of maintaining these common environmental standards and equally robust enforcement mechanisms across the entire island.

    In the absence of formal oversight by the European Commission and European Court of Justice, a ‘governance gap’ could open in environmental law enforcement in Northern Ireland and result in ‘environmental dumping’ – with standards in the south undercut by weaker implementation north of the border. [7] [8] [9]

    Mr Casement will also point out that the island of Ireland must be seen as a “single bio–geographic unit” as the whole island shares a whole host of natural assets such as plants, animals, water and air.

    At a landmark conference in Dundalk this year, MEPs, legal experts and NGOs outlined how any weakening of legislative protection would be the single greatest environmental risk posed by Brexit. [10] [11]

    Coordinator of the Environmental Pillar, Michael Ewing, said:

    “Mr Casement’s presentation highlights the challenges Brexit brings for environmental protection and how these issues can be averted through continued cross–border cooperation and the maintenance of at least equivalent levels of environmental protection 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 are not undermined.”

    “We want to stress that all environmental issues covered by EU standards such as those on water quality and the conservation of species and habitats have a strong cross–border dimension.”

    “Therefore, it is crucial that the island of Ireland and its surrounding waters are considered as a single bio–geographic unit and that mechanisms are in place to effectively manage cross–border environmental issues post Brexit.”

    “Given that 1 in 5 species are currently threatened with extinction from the island of Ireland, it is now more important than ever to preserve close cooperation in addressing such issues.”

    Chair of Northern Ireland Environment Link, Patrick Casement, said:

    “Our coalition shares a set of serious concerns about the negative impacts of a hard environmental border post–Brexit. Cross–border environmental cooperation as supported by the Good Friday Agreement and common EU rules play a crucial role in effectively protecting our shared natural heritage.”

    “Our small island forms a single and unique unit in terms of our natural environment and our plant and animal species do not recognise the existence of a border.”

    “Many of these species are currently at risk of extinction on the island of Ireland and any dilution of protection will place them in further danger.”

    “As such, we strongly welcome the European Parliament’s recognition in its October resolution of the need to safeguard the agreed areas of cooperation as part of the withdrawal agreement.”

    “We will be continuing to emphasise to all sides in these negotiations the importance of cross–border cooperation and common standards for the future of North/South relations, environmental protection and the avoidance of environmental dumping.”


    [1] Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament regarding the Public Hearing on “The impacts of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on the environment, public health and food safety”, taking place on 28 November 2017.

    [2] As set out in their joint submission to the Dail’s Good Friday Committee, and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in Westminster, the coalition is keen to stress that the natural environment does not respect borders and its protection needs to be addressed on an all–island basis.

    [3] Since 1973, environmental cooperation on the island of Ireland has been underpinned by the common set of environmental standards established at EU–level. This cooperative framework was recognised and strengthened by the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the establishment of the North South Ministerial Council – with a remit that includes facilitating co–operation and coordination in EU matters, with environment listed as one of the six key areas for cooperation.

    [4] Both resolutions can be found here –]

    [5] Just last week, the Government’s Chief Whip, Minister Joe McHugh, reiterated this position, stating:  “I want to assure all people present here today that the Irish Government is working really hard to protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.”

    [6] The vast majority of Annex 1 bird species on the island of Ireland as listed under the EU Birds Directive occur on both sides of the border. For example, 90% of the Canadian Flyway population of Light–bellied Brent Geese visit the island of Ireland each year, with the majority using designated wetlands in Northern Ireland during the autumn staging period (Oct–Nov) and designated wetlands in the Republic of Ireland during the main wintering period (Dec–March).

    [7] Almost half of the cases brought against the UK between 2003–2017related to the environment and the vast majority resulted in a judgement against the UK in whole or in part:     

    [8] In September, the coalition warned high–level European representatives in Brussels that the potential weakening of legislative protection in the North is perhaps the single greatest environmental risk posed by Brexit: 

    [9] The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has himself recognised the damage that any divergence of standards could cause, especially in relation to future cooperation and trade:     

    [10] The conference took place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dundalk and was organised by the European Parliament in partnership with the Environmental Pillar and the Northern Ireland Environment Link:   

    [11] Conference photos: