The government’s stated goal in the Great Repeal Bill White Paper is to “ensure that the whole body of existing EU environmental law continues to have effect in domestic law”. This broad commitment is reassuring, yet it is stated elsewhere that the bill will only convert EU law into domestic law “wherever practical and sensible”, and it is not yet clear whether this could create gaps in environmental protections.
Brexit may lead recycling rates to stagnate, as the current targets expire in 2020, and the UK’s progress on raising recycling rates has stalled at around 44%. It is not clear whether or not the UK will transpose the EU’s proposed 2030 recycling targets or develop its own targets or alternative approach.
Ecodesign, a policy which requires manufacturers to make products that are more efficient, durable and repairable, has the potential to make a significant contribution to resource efficiency in the UK. In November 2016 the European Commission announced new ecodesign priorities and a new plan for regulations over the next few years. However, while the UK government has pledged to maintain current environmental standards it is unclear how or if the UK will stay in sync with EU product standards.
The Great Repeal Bill White Paper does not make clear what, if any, domestic governance arrangements will be put in place to replace the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the role it jointly plays with other EU institutions in providing the monitoring, oversight, accountability, and enforcement functions required to ensure the effective implementation of waste and resources legislation.
The government’s decision to end the jurisdiction of the ECJ in the UK is very significant for resource policy: there is a large body of case law which sets the rules for waste treatment, waste targets compliance, and product standards compliance are ultimately subject to ECJ decisions. Without some form of co-ordination mechanism, as decisions on these matters continue to be made, the UK may end up with conflicting rules on product standards, which would hinder trade, and on waste rules, which could strand investments in UK waste treatment facilities.