Former U.K. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson Outlines the Environmental Benefits of Brexit

On October 4, 2017, Owen Paterson MP, who until 2014 was the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, visited CEI to deliver remarks on how the U.K.’s separation from the European Union (EU) will allow the former to develop more effective, better-targeted environmental policies tailored to the country’s specific needs.


He was introduced by Myron Ebell, director of CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment.

Speaking before an invitation-only audience, Paterson laid out the problem:

The EU has single-mindedly pursued an overly prescriptive interpretation of the “Precautionary Principle,” smothering opportunities for innovation in thrall to the emotions of vocal activists rather than scientific evidence and advice.

The green blob dominates thinking in Brussels, with generous grants given to green groups so that they will lobby it for regulations which then require large budgets to enforce.

The result of this mindset?

Global co-operation on environmental matters is essential, but the fundamental flaw in the EU approach has been conflating co-operation with uniformity of implementation. Global rules must be interpreted at a national and even a local level so that they best meet the needs of the local environment. It is absurd to seek to apply the same rules across vastly different terrains and eco-systems. There are real lessons to be learnt from the significant powers which each of your 50 states deploy.

The weight of history supports this view. Democracies have a far better record of preserving the natural environment than do unelected governments of whatever shape. Examples abound of the failures of tyrannies and bureaucracies, from the drying up of the Aral Sea in central Asia as a result of Soviet irrigation policy— described by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters”—to the catastrophic consequences of the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy, which sees fishermen discarding a million tonnes of otherwise healthy fish every year.

Our departure means that, rather than being tied to a common and often wholly unsuitable European policy, we are free to introduce, amend and strengthen our own legislation conforming to international conventions. We can now do so in response to the needs of our own species and habitats.

Breaking free from EU regulatory constraints will also enable U.K. researchers to develop technological breakthroughs that can help enhance the world’s food production.

The potential for GMOs [genetically modified organisms]—safely and precisely—to alleviate food scarcity is vast. At present, various types of malnutrition affect almost 2 billion people around the world.

It accounts for the loss of 3 million young lives each year and stunts the growth of one in four children. If we cannot feed ourselves properly now, then how can we expect to do so with our present practices when the global population reaches 9.8 billion in 2050?

The answer is to keep up the pressure to continue the Green Revolution started by Norman Borlaug. I can remember as a child seeing traumatic news bulletins with images of starving people on the Indian subcontinent. Borlaug, put an end to this shame. He is now known as “The man who saved a billion lives” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in transferring wheat with new genetics from the Americas to the Indian subcontinent in the 1960s. He used genetic modification to save a billion lives from starvation, and now India is a net food exporter.

For Owen Paterson’s full prepared remarks, see here.