Last reviewed 29 December 2020

The UK has agreed to maintain environmental targets currently covered by EU legislation, under the new trade deal announced on 24 December.

The UK leaves the single market and the customs union at the end of 2020, but the Government has confirmed it will uphold EU environmental standards in waste, air quality, water, and protection of habitats and species from 1 January 2021.

Maintaining joint environmental standards forms part of the wider “level playing field” which refers to a set of common rules and standards that are used primarily to prevent businesses in one country undercutting competitors in other countries.

Environmental protection is one area where the EU has legislated to raise standards across member states. But sustaining environmental standards can lead to additional costs for businesses. By agreeing to the level playing field, companies in both the UK and the EU will be competing on similar environmental terms.

The EU was also concerned that lower environmental standards could impose “costs on EU citizens” through cross-border pollution. The UK has frequently ended up before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) defending its position on environmental pollution and related health issues. But under the new deal, the ECJ will no longer play a direct role in policing the UK’s environmental record.

On other related topics, the UK has already announced its own independent REACH regime and opened consultation on charges for UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) from 1 January 2021. Both the UK and the EU are also committed to net zero targets by 2050, based on 1990 baseline data.

Commenting on the trade deal between the UK and EU, Nick Molho, Executive Director at the Aldersgate business Group, said the agreement will “provide a degree of clarity to businesses in the UK and Europe” during challenging economic times.

“This should include promoting high standards on the environment and climate change, reducing barriers for trade in low carbon goods and services, and protecting the UK’s future right to regulate on environmental and climate change policy issues,” Molho added.

Final details on future service sector arrangements, which currently makes up 40% of the UK’s exports to the EU and accounts for around 80% of the UK’s economic activity, have yet to be agreed.