Europe Climate Policy in Doubt after Brexit Vote

By Maza, Cristina | The Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Europe Climate Policy in Doubt after Brexit Vote


Maza, Cristina, The Christian Science Monitor


From oil prices and economic growth rates to the value of the British pound, a host of indicators turned more volatile on June 24 as a small majority of Britain's citizens voted in a nationwide referendum to leave the European Union.

But one of the most confounding questions to come out of the vote could be on the front of climate change.

Specifically, the questions are how Britain and continental Europe will separate their climate and energy policies - and whether those policies will stay on track toward carbon-reduction goals agreed half a year ago, as countries of the European Union banded together to negotiate a major international climate treaty.

It's now unclear whether Britain will ratify the historic Paris climate treaty at the same time as the rest of the union's members. The impact of "Brexit," the British vote to exit the EU, is also potentially destabilizing on Europe's Energy Union.

What's clearest, experts say, is that major decisions will be stalled as bureaucrats and politicians on both sides of the English Channel determine what comes next.

"EU ratification of the Paris Climate treaty may be delayed by Brexit," says Maria Castellina, senior media officer at the environmental non-profit Friends of the Earth-UK. "With the UK leaving the EU, our contribution to meeting the targets will no longer be included, and how that effort will be shared out amongst the other countries will take time to work out."

In just a few weeks, the European Commission was expected to present its plan for how all 28-member states would work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Now the presentation will probably be put on hold while it's determined whether Britain will continue to work toward that common target.

Moreover, huge questions hang in the air regarding Britain's participation in the European carbon emissions trading scheme, and whether the country will continue to work toward the EU goal to provide 20 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The outcome of these decisions could weaken the climate commitments of both Britain and EU, some advocates of emissions cuts say.

"The UK is already off track in terms of meeting the EU's renewable energy targets. Leaving the EU may mean we no longer have to comply with the renewables directive, so Brexit could badly stall any possibility of getting the stronger policies we need," says Ms Castellina.

Previously one of the most vocal EU member states calling for cuts to carbon emissions, Britain will no longer be in a position to pressure the rest of Europe to meet targets to keep global warming at 1.5 C below pre-industrial levels, she adds.

A reset in LondonA key reason: In response to the Brexit campaign's success, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his intention to resign from office, casting doubt on the future of the current government's domestic energy policies, too. Cameron had pledged to phase out coal-run power plants by 2025. But will that happen under the new government?

Amber Rudd, Secretary for Energy and Climate Change since the Conservative Party's parliamentary victory in 2015, was a fervent supporter of Britain remaining in the EU and of Britain's participation in the Paris climate treaty. But Ms. Rudd will almost certainly follow Cameron when he leaves office. It's unclear who will be take her place, or whether a climate change portfolio will exist in the next government, experts say.

Many of the main faces of the Brexit campaign, including Boris Johnson, London's grandiloquent former mayor, are known climate change skeptics. On Thursday Justice Secretary Michael Gove, a leading architect of the Brexit, announced his plans to campaign for the premiership. Just three years ago, during his time as education secretary, Mr. Gove also campaigned to remove climate change from school curriculum. Other "Brexiters" have called to completely abolish the country's landmark Climate Change Act. …

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