For more than four decades the UK contributed to EU-wide environmental lawmaking, but what have these regulations and directives done for us? The nearest data that we have comes from the Netherlands. There, scientists compared two alternative realities for their country: one with no EU laws and a version of today’s reality. European-wide laws began with exhaust standards for cars in the 1970s. Acid rain and forest dieback led to industry regulation and limits for total air pollution that each country could produce. The final step was to set minimum standards for the quality of the air that we all breathe.
Without EU laws, particle pollution in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague would have risen steadily to be about 10 times greater than they are today; only slightly better than cities across China, India and Iran. Average life expectancy across the Netherlands would be about six years shorter; that equates to about 66,000 extra Dutch deaths annually and a health cost of €35bn-€77bn (£30bn-£65bn) a year. The UK is further from some of Europe’s big pollution centres than the Netherlands, but with a population that is four times greater, we can be sure that the impact of EU laws on annual deaths would be larger.