After Brexit, Europe’s Climate Policy At Risk

  • Date: 15/07/16
  • Deutsche Welle

Britain’s new prime minister Theresa May has scrapped the UK’s climate ministry and appointed a climate skeptic as environment minister. In a post-Brexit world, Europe’s climate protection policy could be in trouble.

Theresa May speaks to the Conservative Party (c) Getty Images/C. Furlong

Over the past decade, the United Kingdom has been one of Europe’s most progressive forces in tackling climate change. But all that appeared to change this week.

Theresa May, the post-Brexit prime minister who took charge on Wednesday (13.07.2016) after the resignation of David Cameron, has decided to eliminate the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Serving under a dedicated minister, the department has since 2008 been one of the most active in Europe pushing for carbon dioxide emissions reduction.

May is dismantling the department and folding the responsibility for these two areas into a “Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy” department which will be led by Conservative MP Greg Clarke.

Criticism of the move has been fast and furious. Ed Milliband, the former leader of the opposition Labour Party who himself served as the first Energy and Climate Change Secretary in 2008, said the move was “just plain stupid.”

Caroline Lucas, the leading MP in the UK’s Green Party, said the move is “deeply worrying,” and that climate change will be forgotten without a dedicated minister in the UK government.

Stephen Devlin, an environmental economist at the New Economics Foundation, said the decision “signals a troubling de-prioritization of climate change by this government [and is] a staggering act of negligence for which we will all pay the price.”

Asked by reporters whether the move means climate change issues have been downgraded, a spokesperson for May said the government “will be continuing to meet our international commitments.”

Separately, May appointed Andrea Leadsom, her former rival for the leadership, to be the UK’s new environment secretary. Leadsom is known as a climate skeptic (sic), having famously questioned whether climate change is real on her first day as UK energy minister last year.

Europe’s climate goals at risk

The move has further alarmed European climate activists, who were already worried about the impact of Brexit, the UK’s impending exit from the EU that voters narrowly decided in a public referendum on June 23.

Brendan MacNeil, chair of the UK parliament’s energy and climate change committee, said he is “astonished” that May would take this decision at a time when there is huge uncertainty about the future of efforts to tackle climate change in the UK. […]

Increased burden for remaining EU states

A Brexit will not only create a leadership vacuum on emissions reductions – it will also create a burden-sharing vacuum. The EU’s 40 percent target, pledged at the UN climate summit in Paris last year, applies to the entire bloc rather than to individual countries.

This means that once the UK leaves the EU, it will no longer be bound by the Paris Agreement. It would need to sign a new bilateral emissions reduction pledge with the UN.

French President Francois Hollande and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon react during the final plenary session at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget (Photo: Reuters/S. Mahe)

Brexit will mean the UK is no longer part of the Paris climate accord agreed last year

The burden of meeting the 40 percent reduction was to be split among the 28 EU member states, with different countries contributing varying amounts based on their ability and wealth. As a large, wealthy country, the UK was expected to shoulder a large part of this burden.

“If the UK leaves, their share will have to be compensated by others – mostly by those in the middle range,” said Trio. “Italy, Spain and Portugal will have to do more.”

Under UN rules, the EU is not allowed to revise down its Paris commitment in light of Brexit.

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