How will Brexit affect environmental policies in the UK and in Europe? Concerns mount as climate is largely left out of the negotiations.
With the Brexit negotiations stuck on Irish boarder status, complex issues such as climate change barely receive a mention. Yet, a group of top scientists, ecologists and engineers has written to Environment Secretary Michael Gove and David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, to raise alarm on the future of the country’s environmental policies. Not only does the EU set emissions targets, but it also guarantees technology transfers to help Member States reach their goals. Which begs the question of what will become of the British environmental policies?
Mr Gove, one of the leading figures in the Leave campaign, stated in his first speech as Environment Secretary he would fight for a “Green Brexit”, citing the divorce as an unprecedented chance to reform issues such as animal welfare and air quality. However, according to the co-authors of the open letter, Brexit represents a significant threat to the UK’s progress on cutting carbon emissions. Other public institutions have suggested that the UK’s “out” vote in June 2015 will question EU’s climate change policies.
In principle, Brexit disengages the UK completely from the EU legislation. However, London will still have to abide by its own pledges. It must be remembered that the UK has been a champion for efforts to mitigate climate change. As of 2008, the UK has implemented the legally binding Climate Change Act. It commits the country to reduce emissions by at least 80% in 2050 from 1990 levels. That is the same as the European Commission’s “2050 low-carbon economy” target. The government has also already adopted the “fifth carbon budget” which implies reducing carbon emissions by 57% by 2030.
However, without the EU safeguard, any country can pull back on its own engagements – as American President Donald Trump has repeatedly shown. Furthermore, it is still not clear whether or not the UK will be a part of the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) – a tool to combat the climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe, a total UK departure could somewhat compromise the cap and trade market.
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