This paper evaluates the possible implications of Brexit for achieving environmental justice in the United Kingdom. It discusses the need for a clear, committed and inclusive approach to environmental governance if the United Kingdom is to maintain and advance recent progress on environmental justice matters post-Brexit.
Several studies have compiled the growing evidence of environmental injustice in, and caused by, the United Kingdom. However, the rise of a robust regional governance approach to stakeholder participation, accountability, non-discrimination and equality, empowerment and legality (the PANEL principles) in the European Union over the last decade has made positive impacts and has provided hope for the future of environmental justice in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has provided commendable opportunities for non-governmental organizations and individuals to access justice on environmental matters whenever justice was inaccessible or unaffordable domestically.
The possible loss of the EU policy “backstop” on environmental justice post-Brexit raises fundamental questions about whether, and how, a stand-alone United Kingdom could guarantee and protect public rights to environmental justice with the same commitment, consistency and vigour as the European Union. Furthermore, loss of the courageous and imaginative jurisprudence of the CJEU on fundamental questions relating to the principles of participation, accountability, non-discrimination and equality, empowerment and legality could stifle environmental justice in the United Kingdom.
Despite these concerns, however, Brexit must not only be discussed in terms of challenges and complexities. As the UK government begins the process of clarifying how the United Kingdom’s environmental law will look post-Brexit, there are significant opportunities to revise and revitalize environmental justice mechanisms in the United Kingdom to become clear, committed and inclusive.