The Brexit is a pyrrhic victory. Make no mistake about it, Britain’s exit from Europe is bad news for environmental and climate policy and not just in the UK. Compounding the problem is the fact that uncertainty will further destabilize a less than stable economy. Brexit has already wiped $2 trillion off world markets.
We can expect less external pressure to address environmental and climate issues and it could ultimately gut the UK’s green policy initiatives.
It will almost certainly lower climate ambitions and undermine clean air initiatives. This is a troubling as there are currently approximately 40,000 deaths a year from air pollution in the UK. The Brexit may have a wide range of adverse environmental impacts from killing the UK’s renewable energy targets to ending the ban on pesticides that harm bees and other crucial pollinators.
Despite these impacts, environmental protections and climate action were not really part of the discussion leading up to the Brexit. The polemics that defined the debate omitted key issues.
As Rev. Michael J. Pitts put it:
“One side was driven by xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric. The other
side was based in the exploitative interests of free market capitalism.
This division is echoed in many parts of the western world. Has not the
time come for a totally new approach to politics, based in social
justice, equitable and sustainable distribution of the finite resources
our planet has to offer and a determination to leave a livable future
for those who come after us?”
The point of the exit vote is hard to fathom as it will not deliver the unfettered freedom that supporters have promised. Contrary to the views expressed by some, international obligations will still subject the UK to a host of constraints.
It is important to understand that the leading supporters of the Brexit are climate deniers. The sad truth is that climate deniers and racists have won the day. It is nothing short of ironic that the same nation that has colonized much of the world, has now voted to close its borders to immigrants. There are unmistakable parallels with the xenophobia of Republican nominee Donald Trump and his absurd pledge to build a wall to keep immigrants out of the US.
Those who voted for the Brexit tend to be older and less educated than those who voted against it. This is evidenced in a Washington Post article, which explains that many do not understand what they are leaving. This is sad reflection on Britain and the British people. However, it should be noted that these racist views are prevalent throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world.
The global economic repercussions will continue as will the impact on environmental policy.
We have already seen trillions wiped off the books as part of the Brexit reaction. It will also add to the the cost and difficulty of combating climate change. These economic impacts will erode the capacity for bold climate action at the very time when we need it most.
Britain’s departure from Europe occurs at a time when we need to see tightly coordinated efforts to manage the climate crisis and environmental degradation. Brexit has killed a common environmental framework entrenched in law. This will lead to fragmentation of environmental law.
The UK has previously been a leading nation in terms of climate action. Among other things they have committed to carbon neutrality. Post Brexit the UK may loosen environmental law to serve economic interests. This is a dangerous and slippery slope. As explained by Greenpeace UK chief John Sauven:
“There is a very real fear that Cameron’s successor will come from the school that supports a bonfire of anti-pollution protections. The climate change-denying wing of the Conservative Party will be strengthened by this vote for Brexit.”
According to Nick Mabey, chief executive at E3G, a London think tank, “Brexit will significantly damage the UK’s ability to manage climate risks.” Alex Pashley said Britain’s departure from the European Union will be “harmful to its natural environment and lead to uncertainty over future rules.”
In an open letter to environment secretary, Liz Truss, 14 signatories
including four former chairs of environment agencies said EU membership
has been critical to improving the UK’s environmental quality.
“We will better able to protect the quality of Britain’s environment if we stay in Europe,” the letter concluded,
“We therefore conclude that Brexit would be damaging for Britain’s
According to a Chatham House paper Brexit will weaken the UK’s international influence on climate and energy policy. It could even undermine European implementation of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Brexit will also increase the chances of US/China hegemony on climate action.
In a London School of Economics article titled, “How would a Brexit affect the environment?” Sebastian Oberthür from the Institute for European
Studies said that the climate efforts of a unified Europe have had a positive impact on Europe and the wider world. Oberthür also said,”the result may well be a triple-loss: for the EU, the UK, and the
In a Guardian article Damian Carrington called Brexit “social insanity…[T]he protections for our environment will get weaker.” He said, he went on to say: “The Brexit vote leaves it highly uncertain which protections will remain in place and the prospect of improving them seems remote.”
Craig Bennett, head of Friends of the Earth, said the leave vote was a “red alert” for the environment. James Thornton, the chief executive of Client Earth,said Brexit leaves me “extremely concerned about the future of environmental protections in the UK.”
All is not lost, however, the already herculean struggle has become that much more difficult.
Here is a lecture on the relationship between Brexit and the environment from Prof. Colin Reid, University of Dundee Law School. As he says we can expect to see “less regulation and weakening environmental standards.”
Image credit: TV5 Monde