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Not just now.
Fundamentally, a healthy natural environment is critical to our success as a nation. It underpins our economy, our health, our landscape and our way of life. Scotland trades internationally on our reputation as a clean, green country with wholesome food and drink. We often take that natural environment for granted, but we must all remember that it is one of Scotland’s most precious assets.
The threat of Brexit brings those benefits into clearer focus. Although environmental arguments were not at the heart of the EU referendum debate, there is widespread acceptance that the EU has been a catalyst for driving up environmental standards since the UK joined in 1973. We strongly believe that membership of the EU delivers considerable social, economic, environmental and cultural benefits for individuals, businesses and communities across Scotland.
We have much to be proud of in Scotland’s environmental record. We have an excellent record on water quality and we are acknowledged to be one of the leaders in delivering comprehensive policies across the landscape to further enhance the water environment. We have built a reputation in Europe as leaders on climate change and on the circular economy, and we fully intend to maintain that position.
EU nature policy and legislation are effective, ambitious, far reaching, robust, consistent and well enforced. Scotland provides the major part of the UK’s contribution to Natura 2000, with more than 15 per cent of our land area designated for a wealth of habitats and species. We remain a stronghold for a number of species that are threatened or extinct elsewhere in the EU.
Scotland’s first national marine plan was adopted in March 2015 to provide a comprehensive and joined-up policy for protecting and enhancing our marine environment and resources.
We have shown leadership in areas such as natural capital—Scotland was the first country in the world to establish a natural capital asset indicator—and the largest green-space project in Europe is right here in Scotland, with the central Scotland green network receiving some 25 million visits per year.
In 2015, we published Scotland’s first separate air quality strategy, which demonstrates our determination to improve air quality. We are also working hard to halt biodiversity loss in Scotland.
Although we cannot be complacent, overall, we can be proud of our successes in seeking to protect our environment. The EU referendum result does not affect our commitment to build on those successes.
It is important to recognise that we are much more aligned to the EU’s position on a number of issues, such as climate change, than the UK Government is. The EU referendum result creates unnecessary uncertainty and, to be frank, Brexit would make it more difficult to achieve our ambitions for the environment. It is not that we would lose our ambition but that our ambition would be made harder to achieve.
It is not by chance that we enjoy high environmental standards in the EU. We have been able to develop and maintain our high standards because the EU has created arrangements for trade between partner nations that respect and promote progress in social and environmental protection.
Scotland has been, and continues to be, an active partner in Europe on the climate and low-carbon agenda. Scotland participates widely in EU research and development programmes and knowledge exchange and it leads on delivering emissions reduction measures and pioneering low-carbon technologies.
Membership of the EU enables us to help to shape the rules, regulations and standards that directly affect our ability to maintain and enhance our environment. It allows us to participate in the meetings and discussions that take place in Brussels. Many of the environmental challenges that we face do not respect national boundaries. Being part of the EU makes it easier to take the collective action that is needed to tackle those environmental challenges.
Bilateral trade deals do not necessarily respect environmental, climate change and sustainable development goals. Whatever the good intentions of Governments, we know that maintaining high standards is difficult without trading arrangements that allow that to happen.
The best way to maintain progress on environmental quality and towards the achievement of climate change targets is within the EU. Let us not forget that that is also what the Scottish people wanted—to remain in the EU. Being in the EU allows us to promote resource efficiency and make genuine moves towards sustainability. With our partners, we believe that there is potential to reform producer responsibility to promote aspects of design that support a more circular economy, such as increased durability or recycled content. We also intend to explore how we could direct more products into higher-value use beyond recycling and into reuse and remanufacture.
What are a couple of the specific threats that are posed by Brexit? I will first speak about climate change. Whatever form of Brexit the UK Government pursues—let us be honest: views on that seem to change daily—we will no longer be part of the EU negotiating bloc on climate change. That risks our international reputation as climate change leaders and our opportunity to contribute to global climate diplomacy. We will lose access to financial support programmes and the ability to influence decisions that will continue to have an impact on Scotland.
Climate change targets are challenging and the best way of achieving them is to continue with collective effort, which is vital for delivering on Paris agreement commitments. The UK’s forthcoming exit from the EU is already creating uncertainty about the key building blocks for achieving targets, including emissions trading and effort sharing. With a UK exit looming, the global community is concerned about risks to the EU’s position in global climate negotiations.