Energy & Environment

Brexit and climate change

Nick Mabey / Jul 2016

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The vote by the UK to leave the EU was unexpected and transformational. Although political analysts had been clear the result was too close to call; from the shocked reactions everywhere it was clear that no one, including the leaders of the Leave campaign, expected this result. UK politics remains in chaos and as yet there is no clear pathway or timetable for the UK to leave the EU. However, the majority of UK political parties and all EU Leaders have stated they expect this to happen over the next two or more years.

The UK has played a leading role in EU climate policy and in the creation of the single energy market, so unsurprisingly many concerns have been raised over what Brexit means for climate change. While the future remains highly uncertain and everything has changed, in fact much stays the same. The fundamental drivers of EU climate and clean energy remain in place, including the UK’s domestic Climate Change Act. The UK has just announced its 5th carbon budget to 2032 unopposed. UK access to the single energy market will be critical for meeting these targets at lowest cost.

As countries begin to grapple with the implications of Brexit it is clear that there will be no quick resolution of the new EU-UK relationship. German climate policy will continue as planned. They empathise with the British public and Angela Merkel is not hastily pushing the UK away. Debates on EU reformation to combat domestic nationalism continue ahead of their own general election next year.

In Brussels the UK’s vote to leave the European Union has been felt as a blow, a rejection. But adopting an (ironically) very British attitude – keep a stiff upper lip, mustn’t grumble – European leaders have gotten down to business to define the new face of Europe. There could be a push for increased EU clean investment, and some relaxation of austerity budgets, in order to address the same economic and political grievances that fuelled the Leave vote.

Finally it’s important to note that Brexit does not imperil the survival of the Paris Agreement but may well delay EU ratification of the treaty. However, while the immediate impacts of Brexit seem manageable the medium term impact on the broader politics of Europe, and the ability to sustain focus on long run projects such as climate protection, are very uncertain.

The departure of such a strong climate champion from the EU will make raising climate targets harder in the face of resistance from Poland. Maintaining a political environment in the EU for ambitious climate action will be deeply intertwined with wider efforts to reconfigure the European project. EU leaders have said they want to bring its benefits more clearly to European citizens. The benefits of clean and secure energy, and the jobs and investment it brings to all Member States, should be a critical part of realising this new political project for Europe.


Nick Mabey

Nick Mabey

July 2016

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