The front page of The Economist this week (February 27th-March 4th2016) proclaims “Brexit: Bad for Britain, Europe and the West”. Turn tothe Leader on page 9 and it is argued that not only would Brexit be damaging to the UK’s economy and security, it would also have wider European and global ramifications that “go beyond economics”. Whilst examples of these wider impacts are given, the article makes no reference to Brexit and climate change. There is, however, considerable debate, elsewhere.
Carbon Brief is a UK-based website currently tracking the opinions of key players in energy and climate change, in addition to other influential views that reference these topics in relation to the 23rd June vote. As of 27th February 2016, the tracker had twenty entries; four ‘leavers’ and sixteen arguing that Britain should stay in the EU. Whilst the quotes from leavers focus on the perceived damage to the UK from EU energy policies, if challenged with regard to action on climate change, they may perhaps choose to focus on the fact that (in theory) the Climate Change Act 2008 commits the UK to reducing greenhouse gas emissions irrespective of EU membership status.
However, the ‘remainers’ are more vocal on this, with some interesting examples of cross-party consensus. For example, Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, is quoted as saying “Of course it is the treatment of catastrophic climate change which hangs over everything else we’re doing to protect our environment….If we join forces with other countries, strengthening the EU-wide rules on carbon emissions that are already in place, then we have a chance of keeping future generations safe”. Ed Miliband, MP and former leader of The Labour Party argues that “We are two per cent of global emissions, the EU is 20 per cent of global emissions. Let us not fall for the myth that somehow we will be more influential and more powerful outside the European Union”.
Whilst the arguments of those campaigning to stay in the EU are compelling, there is an interesting twist when considering the potential implications of Brexit for the continued unity of the UK. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has warned recently that a vote to leave the EU against Scotland’s wishes would “almost certainly” trigger another Independence referendum. Writing in The Guardian, Martin Kettle is right to point out that even if Britain leaves the EU, there are many hurdles facing any renewed bid for Scottish Independence. These include the fact that it is only the UK parliament that has the power to call a second referendum and whether or not it would be possible to retain the pound and not commit to the euro and the strict borrowing limits that go with eurozone membership. However, it is interesting to consider what Brexit, and a successful subsequent campaign for Scottish Independence, might mean for climate change policy and action in Scotland.
Scotland has failed, so far, to meet its annual climate change targets. Whilst the aspirational nature of the targets can still be applauded and progress reporting has been affected by changes in baseline data reporting, measures introduced by the Conservative government, since election in May 2015, including the ending of subsidies for onshore wind, are arguably exacerbating the challenge of achieving an annual target, which would hopefully provide an encouraging and motivating success story.
The Scottish Government has a target to deliver the equivalent of at least 100% of gross electricity consumption from renewables by 2020, with a significant expansion in onshore wind arguably an easy and early win in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland. Representing the Scottish renewable energy industry, Scottish Renewables undertook an analysis in 2015 and concluded that Scotland will fall short of its 2020 target by 13 percent, unless new price guarantee contracts are awarded to onshore and offshore wind projects. Speaking only last month, Nicola Sturgeon described the UK government’s cuts to renewable energy subsidies as “an absolute, total disgrace”.
In the short term, and subject to funding (a significant challenge even prior to the recent drop in oil revenues), Independence would enable the Scottish Government to override these decisions and to provide a greater level of support to renewable energy projects in Scotland. However, looking longer term, beyond Scotland, and at the more challenging aspects of climate change mitigation, including the significant need for technological innovation, we are arguably ‘better together’ (Scotland in the UK and the UK in the EU). To quote Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s Chief Scientist “The more we can be integrated in how we view what our science needs and our policy needs and our understanding of the risks that we face from climate change, the better our response will be”.
Key Information Sources
The Climate Change Act 2008http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/contents
Oral Statement by Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on ending subsidies for onshore wind, 22 June 2015https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/statement-on-ending-subsidies-for-onshore-wind
2020 Routemap for Renewable Energy in Scotland – Update 2015, Scottish Government http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00485407.pdf
The Scottish Greenhouse Gas Emissions Annual Target 2013, Scottish Government, 2015 http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00487828.pdf
Update on Scotland’s 2020 Renewable Electricity Target, Scottish Renewables, November 2015https://www.scottishrenewables.com/media/filer_public/97/53/9753d54b-72ac-4867-a474-347c636b94b0/sr_briefing_-_update_on_scotlands_2020_renewables_targets.pdf
Promoting Technological Innovation to Address Climate Change, OECD,http://www.oecd.org/env/cc/49076220.pdf