Will Brexit dismantle Paris Climate Agreement?

29th Jul 2016


The UK shocked the world last month when it voted to leave the European Union. Now, questions loom about the changing dynamics of many global partnerships; from trade deals to climate deals, the UK is entering uncharted territory.

Last year’s Paris Climate Agreement was hailed a global success that showed that the world was ready to get serious about combating climate change. Over 160 nations submitted individual commitments on emissions reductions in the months leading up to 21st COP (Conference of Parties), which took place last December, but Brexit could disturb that short-lived peace of mind. Though individual nations submitted reductions targets, the EU itself also agreed upon common goals to be met collectively. The Brexit decision may shift the burden of meeting certain targets onto other nations and their industries.

Outgoing Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), Christiana Figueres, said of Brexit that some INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) commitments from the EU may have to be recalibrated, but that tackling climate change is a global commitment that the world is already on board with, and that there is no need to suggest that the UK would back down from its goals. Before the vote, Figueres expressed deep concern about the wider impacts of a potential Leave vote, but after the feared verdict became a reality, softened her take, staying hopeful that Brexit would not reverse the progress already made with the climate agreement. The New Zealand Listener reports, “Just a few days after the Brexit vote, the UK Government accepted the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change for the fifth carbon budget, from 2027 to 2032. This will require a 57% reduction on 1990 by 2030. It’s worth noting that this is considerably more ambitious than the UK’s commitment under the Paris Agreement.”

Less than one month after the Brexit referendum was voted upon, the second ever female UK Prime Minister has been appointed, but Theresa May has a mixed record on environmental issues. In 2008, Friends of the Earth praised her for her help in pushing a climate change bill. Since then, she has voted against regulation that would prevent fracking, supported selling England’s state-owned forests, and advocated for the controversial badger cull. Still, May has expressed a commitment to stay on track with reducing emissions incrementally, and supports subsidies for renewable energy such as solar. There is no sign that she intends to weaken the UK’s terms within the Paris Agreement. Business Green reports that, “The public likes the EU environmental regulations that have given them clean beaches and biodiverse habitats. May is much less likely than any of the other leadership candidates to embark on an ideological war on red tape, as well as being better positioned to resist calls for a bonfire of environmental protections from those on the right of the party who helped deliver Brexit and then promptly excused themselves from the scene.”

Though the future of the UK’s energy policy is in limbo for now, all stakeholders have displayed a staunch commitment to keep strong policies in place to combat climate change. Finally, getting to a climate agreement took a great deal of negotiation, and no one wants to see that progress wane. Due to the fact that so many prominent MPs on both sides of the aisle opposed the Leave vote, yet are still left to negotiate its terms, means that there may be a strong push to keep as many existing policies in place as possible. Implementing Article 50 to start the exit process will have worldwide economic repercussions, and so far they have all been adverse for the UK, so Brexiters may have to express deep restraint and humility so as not to rock the geopolitical boat even more. Regardless, the Brits can rest easy knowing they at least don’t have to convince their elected officials that climate change exists. In America, where this is the case, a conservative takeover, which many believe is more likely now that the Leave vote won, could translate into very little enforcement of climate commitments and weaken the overall impact of the Paris Agreement, creating a domino effect of inaction. So far, Brexit doesn’t look like it’s the end of the world for climate commitments, just maybe the EU.

*Theresa May has abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). It has been merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to create an entirely new governmental body. This has been criticised by Liberal Democrat DECC Spokesperson, Lynne Featherstone. “This is another nail in the coffin of the green agenda pushed forward so radically by Liberal Democrats in Coalition. Abolishing DECC is further evidence that the Conservatives have no intention of sticking by their legally binding renewables targets. Climate change sceptics in the Tory party must be having a field day.”

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy



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