What does Brexit mean for climate change and our energy security?\

The EU referendum result last week has already had a huge effect on the UK politically, financially and has divided the population. Although the markets have calmed as we are writing this, there are many areas where we are not sure what the impact will be.

Two of these are climate change and energy security. The EU, famous for its bureaucratic approach to legislation was strong on reducing carbon emissions and placing obligation on member states to legislate in favour of all aspects of environmental responsibility. This included anything from sewage, beaches, water quality, air pollution to building performance. UK policy and our global influence will both be affected by the Brexit decision.

The UK 2008 Climate Change Act makes carbon cuts legally binding, but there is a risk this could be repealed by a pro-Brexit government if no longer part of the EU, in order to reduce business costs.

If other incentives were introduced the effect of this may be balanced, but this does not look likely. The current PM hopefuls have a mixed opinion on climate change. Andrea Leadsom, the current Energy Minister, is known to be in favour of huge cuts to renewables subsidies; Michael Gove pushed for climate change to be taken off the school curriculum and Teresa May is silent on the subject. With this and the huge distraction of negotiating our exit, it is obvious there will be no immediate priority to progress the extremely necessary and, potentially lucrative, green infrastructure and incentives that will be required for the UK to thrive and be more self-reliant in the decades to come.

“Since the UK will need to sail fast and free post-Brexit, the economic engine must be fueled as cheaply and efficiently as possible; a requirement that is incompatible with currently applicable EU (climate) regulation, and much of it will consequently have to be rejected.”

The Global Warming Policy Forum warned

Relevant to the construction industry the best policy driver for low carbon design on the horizon is the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which will require the UK to deliver ‘nearly zero energy buildings’ from 2021, and from January 2019 in the public sector. Without membership of the EU this target is in danger. We have already seen the abolition of the Code for Sustainable Homes in favour of a weaker, less holistic, update to Part L of the Building Regulations in 2013 (6 months late in 2014). In 2015 RIBA reported ‘Eight years after the policy was first announced and subsequently confirmed by successive governments, the zero carbon policy, along with the 2016 improvement in building fabric energy standards and the arrival of Allowable Solutions to make up any zero carbon shortfall, was scrapped in [a]…Treasury ‘productivity plan’.’ The Government’s official position now is that ‘energy efficiency standards will be kept under review.’ Companies who had dedicated resources to prepare for the zero carbon policies were furious.

In 2015 David Cameron pushed for global progress on climate change at the COP21 in Paris where 195 countries signed up to the deal to cut carbon emissions and limit global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius, but this needs to be ratified by each country. David Cameron is being pressured to do this before he steps down as there is a risk a new leader might not action this. UK officials could also face exclusion from EU climate meetings ahead of the COP22 Marrakech climate summit in November, given the long-term and sensitive nature of those discussions. With a lack of allies at the UN caused by leaving the EU, we would have to align ourselves with others such as the US, New Zealand and Australia.

The EU may even find it harder to increase targets without the balancing effect of the UK vote on Eastern countries who would rather see a slowing of carbon emission cuts.

The UK’s global influence on climate change, could also be in jeopardy.

UK energy security has also been studied; costs for being outside the EU’s energy market have been predicted to reach £500m a year by 2020 by Vivid Economics. Even if the cost increase is smaller than this, added to fears we are too dependent on gas imports from Russia, it will require the UK to develop more secure energy sources closer to home.

If approached in a progressive manner this could mean heavy incentives in favour of clean, renewable sources. However, the energy manifesto of Fresh Start, a group of around 100 pro-Brexit Conservative MPs, including Andrea Leadsom has called for ditching the 2020 targets for renewables and investing in shale gas and new nuclear, which they say would ensure the UK could meet its climate goals at lower costs. These energy sources have their own risks to the environment.

We shall have to wait and see what unfolds and keep pressure on government to act in a progressive and responsible manner for the next generations.

“Costs for being outside the EU’s energy market have been predicted to reach £500m a year by 2020.”

Vivid Economics

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