UK needs to lead not leave on climate

The UK should be leading on environmental action - and not leaving it. The EU accounts for 10% of global emissions, but has a bigger role to play in setting standards for the rest of the world through legislation and regulation. With ‘Brexit’ threatening current UK and EU energy and climate policy, how can positive framing create a win-win for those keen on a low-carbon, European future? 

Referendums are tricky. They are often swayed by imagery and gut instinct rather than statistics or stale policy. The Scottish ‘In’ campaign was widely criticised for their ‘Project Fear’ campaign and there are worries that the EU Remain camp could follow suit. Climate change campaigners often face similar stumbling block - it is argued that fear appeals, and dry stats don’t inspire people.

But as we campaign to remain within the EU, we need not resort to such tactics. Our proud history of diplomacy and importance in global negotiations alongside the EU gives us much to draw on. British negotiators forged the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which wouldn’t have been possible without UK and EU leadership capping emissions prior to the 1992 agreement. More recently the Prime Minister’s Climate Envoy, Sir David King, has travelled the globe using the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act as a model for others to follow. Leaving the EU will remove Britain from future negotiations on decarbonisation targets, whilst we could still be part of the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) our role in discussions on strategy will be greatly diminished. Whilst the ETS isn’t perfect, we are far better off addressing problems internally rather than attempting to create something new. The Climate Change Act, itself a global example of good practice, is also reliant on the EU’s Carbon Market and faces an uncertain future following Brexit. 

The UK has the EU to thank for a significant proportion of its environmental laws. Clean beaches, protected animals and air quality are all guarded by European legislation. Brexit would leave the UK in unchartered territory regarding climate change and environmental policy. It’s unclear what elements of existing laws would apply, and where new laws and regulation would be required. Within the EU, with our allies we can push for the stronger regulation that’s needed without the fear of placing ourselves within a less competitive position. Long-term EU targets provide an environment for renewables to thrive, especially given the early closure of the Renewables Obligation. Britain is also the biggest beneficiary of the European Investment Bank’s Climate Bonds, taking 24% of the €7.2 billion euros invested by the EIB in UK renewable energy projects.

Environmental problems don’t respect borders. We have already seen the inability for unilateral action to address compex issues in previous action on acid rain. Here UK attempts to reduce the threat of acid rain resulted in the problem being deposited within Nordic lakes and and forests rather than our own. Only through international cooperation were these issues addressed, leading to a reduction in British Sulphur emissions by 85%. We work best when working together. 

Membership of the EU gives the UK energy industry the security and certainty required in turbulent times. The UK has lead in the formation of the Energy Union, initially designed to protect against Russian risk-taking and now integrating markets on a continental scale. It is this positive imagery of the UK’s international heavyweight status that can create a secure and stable environment for ever progressive climate change and energy policy. 

Sam Alvis is a Young Fabians member

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