Climate change after Brexit
Brexit, the term used to describe the UK vote to leave the EU, it is a term that has become widely used and in some cases disliked and confusing. With the government stating that “Brexit means Brexit” the outcome of the vote to leave the EU has become more confusing and daunting as ever. After the entail vote to leave was announced the UK saw large pull outs of many international investors and we saw a worrying and continuous decline in the pound. Many have looked into the implications Brexit will have on the European union and the UK, from various trade agreements to the Geneva convention and the European commission on human rights. However, there has been little focus on how climate change will be affected.
In 2015 the 55 countries representing 55% of the world’s emissions declared to tackle climate change and stop global temperatures rising more than 2 degrees per year. The agreement also outlined various other conditions including to lower global emissions setting targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050. However, with the UK leaving the EU the not yet ratified Paris agreement could be affected by Brexit. If the Paris agreement is ratified before the UK government triggers article 50 (the formal mechanism to leave the EU) the UK will still have ties with the EU in terms of the Paris agreement. If not the UK will still be subject to the agreement, however, it will have to propose its own plan as a single nation on how it plans to fulfil the Paris agreements targets 2020. Many are concerned however that due to the current political turmoil the UK is facing it will not fulfil it’s 2020 or possibly even 2030 targets.
The UK government does not currently have an environmental plan as climate change as gone to the back of everyone’s mind, including the government and the UK public. However, it is clear that Brexit could have some positive impacts on climate change. Due to a predicted economic crash and withdrawal of investments following the years after Brexit industry emissions will be lowered. During the recession of 2007-2009, the UKs carbon emissions were reduced by 1.4% lowering its average global emissions. Although this is not a positive effect on the UK economy it does mean that the UK government need less planning to meet their targets.
One other positive impact Brexit could have on climate change is the money previously put into the EU from the UK, including its guarantee of 0.7% for climate change is this money could be invested solely in the UK climate change issues. However, the 0.7% the UK previously paid is enshrined into law, this means it will be difficult for future governments to remove this law in order to stop paying towards EU climate change policies. As the UK would not be an EU member it would also lose its say as to what this money is spent on. The UK is also more committed to nuclear power than the EU. The fifth carbon budget which was released just a few days after the Brexit announcement stated that the UK plans to invest large amounts into nuclear energy. However, the reliability of nuclear energy is not yet certain.
The biggest impact Brexit could have on climate change is in the EU. The EU will now have to make other countries contribute to emissions the UK had proposed to cut. This will cause issues with countries such as Poland and the Czech republic as they are not big contributors on the climate change stage. The EU will have to get more support from smaller states such as this in order to meet their targets. It has also lost a big funder and voice when it comes to climate change. The UK lead many climate change policies and proposals, it also wanted to reduce emissions by 50% by 2050 rather than the EU proposed 40%. This means that theoretically the UK could continue its climate change work solo with agreements with other countries such as America and China.
Despite this climate change is something that needs to be tackled globally and can not be done on a national scale. The simple fact is that the UK shares water and airways with the EU meaning it must work with the EU in order to keep these clean and tackle climate change. Under the EU Britain’s water systems and airways are currently the cleanest they have been in 25 years. The EU has also allowed the UK to help fund wind farms for renewable energy, wind and hydro-electric power are clearly one of the UKs biggest assets in terms of renewable energy. It is unclear how future governments will keep this going or how committed they will be. Despite this, the current government and opposition have both stated that they are committed to the 2008 climate change act which outlines all of the UKs policies and targets until 2030-2032. The 2008 climate change act is legally binding for the UK and the UK must also keep to the Kyoto protocol.
Without the EU is still possible for the UK to contribute and fight climate change on the global stage. As an active member of the UN and other international agreements, the UK is subject to their climate change policies such as the Kyoto protocol. It means the UK can still have an active voice and spend more time on a bigger stage. However, as the UN is a much larger organisation it is unclear how bigger voice the UK could have, especially without EU backing.
Due to trade, the UK will need to have some agreements with the EU. One suggested the model is the Norway model. This model proposes trade agreements for gas and electric, which the UK needs. The UK would have to abide by certain climate regulations and policies in order to get this gas and electric however as it would not be a member of the EU it would not get a say or vote on these policies. This does not seem very appealing to many people who believe the EU already had too much power over the UK. In fact, it does appear that the only thing Brexit would have done is lost the UKs say in these important matters. The UK would also need to make trade agreements with countries such as Norway as it currently imports 50% of its gas in order for household competition.
However, in order to do this, the UK would have to still go through the EU due to Norway’s previous agreements with the EU. If this is not possible it is not clear how the UK would get its own gas and electric reserves, and the UK could see a further rapid increase in gas and electric.
Overall Brexit for both sides in terms of climate change does not look promising. Although the UK would have more money to spend on its own climate change and renewable energy agenda, it has not clarified how it intends to meet its near approaching targets without the EU. The UK has also lost its voice in the agreements it will have to made in the near future. On the EU side, they have lost the main contributor and will have to put more stress on smaller states in order to meet targets.