Brexit Could Harm UK and EU’s Climate Ambition — Report

July 10, 2017

Whatever deal Brexit secretary David Davis manages to strike with the EU, it could have a negative significant impact on climate policy both on the continent and in the UK, a new report has warned.

Dublin-based think tank the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) looked at four different Brexit scenarios, and found that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would likely harm the region’s overall ambition to climate change.

In one scenario — an ultra-hard Brexit, where the UK uses its withdrawal as an excuse to roll back EU regulations to protect the environment — the country’s climate policy could be “radically altered” with the landmark Paris Agreement “threatened”, the report said.

In the most likely scenarios, a soft or hard Brexit, the EU’s overall ambition to cut emissions is more hurt by the UK’s withdrawal.

That’s because the UK is one of the union’s more successful countries at cutting emissions. So when it leaves, other countries are likely to have to increase their efforts if the EU is going to hit its Paris Agreement goal of a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030.

In a ‘soft’ Brexit scenario, the UK would likely remain part of the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), as other non-member countries such as Iceland and Norway are. That would reduce the impact of Brexit on the EU’s emission reduction ambitions to an extent, and ensure the UK kept its current level of ambition for reducing industrial emissions.

In a hard Brexit, the UK would likely leave the EU ETS but may establish a parallel scheme, mitigating the impact on both the region and country’s climate goals, the report claimed.

Only in an ultra-hard Brexit scenario is the UK’s climate ambition significantly affected, it said. In that case, the UK could leave the EU ETS and seek to “gain competitive advantage over its trading partners through the continued exploitation of ‘cheap fossil fuels’”, the report said.

Under an ultra-hard Brexit deal, the UK could also use Brexit as an excuse to get rid of EU regulations on vehicles and energy efficiency — a scenario that campaigners and experts have been warning politicians about for months.

The UK could even decide to withdraw from the Paris Agreement process, as President Trump recently did, and possibly seek to revise or scrap the UK’s climate change act, the report claimed.

While that scenario is less likely, the report said it “cannot be entirely discounted” as it is promoted by “a vocal cohort within the Conservative Party, as well as elements of the UK press, and reflected in the establishment of groups such as the Red Tape Initiative”.

The Red Tape Initiative was looking at repealing or amending fire regulations shortly before the Grenfell Tower disaster, EnergyDesk recently revealed.

Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas recently tried to introduce an amendment to the Queen’s Speech to push the government to pass an environmental protection bill. Such a law would ensure the “transfer all relevant EU law into domestic law by way of primary legislation”.

Report author Joseph Curtin told the Irish Times: “One thing is clear: further to the damaging withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, the last thing global efforts to tackle climate change need is Brexit; and the harder the Brexit, the worse the climate impact”.

Depending on which scenario plays out, changes to the EU pledge could be required, climate finance flows could be affected and the UK role in climate leadership could be diminished,” the report concluded.

Teaser image credit: ilovetheEU via Wikimedia Commons CC BYSA 4.0

Mat Hope

Mat Hope is Deputy Editor of DeSmog UK. Mat began working with DeSmog UK in October 2016, shortly after the UK voted to leave the EU, and has been working on expanding our coverage of newly empowered networks. He writes, edits and commissions articles on all issues covered by DeSmog UK. Mat previously worked as an Associate Editor for Nature Climate Change, handling its social science coverage and writing on how political, social and economic analysis is key to understanding the challenges associated with climate change. From 2012 to 2014, Mat was an analyst and writer for Carbon Brief, covering all facets of the UK’s energy and climate change debate, from fact-checking denier positions to reporting on the government’s role in international negotiations. Born in Cambridge, UK, Mat studied at the University of Bristol. In 2012, he completed his PhD on political communication strategies in US Congressional climate change debates, which won the Hilary Hartley prize as the best thesis in his department’s graduating class. Mat is a member of the National Union of Journalists.

Tags: Brexit, Paris Climate Agreement, UK energy policies