What will ‘Brexit’ mean for climate change negotiations?

‘Brexit’, the process of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union (EU), is set to take place on 29 March 2019. This is hotly debated and has been analysed from many standpoints. However, the two topics of ‘Brexit’, and how it will be operationalised in relation to climate negotiations, are often considered separately and not as interconnected issues. This leaves the public, businesses and institutions without a clear understanding of what Brexit will mean for climate negotiations.

At COP24, the UK is still considered to be a part of the EU and remains a part of the EU delegation. The UK is still also part of the joint EU Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) - this is the term denoting the climate pledges countries submitted at the Paris Agreement, and requires the UK to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Following Brexit, the Government has confirmed that it will remain committed to the Paris Agreement and that it will continue to be bound to the NDC as an individual party under international law.

We don’t currently know what will happen on the 29 March, but Brexit itself leaves the UK with a number of key questions around emissions, cooperation, funding and investment. Firstly, how will the EU and the UK cooperate on climate change and energy policy during any transition period? This is of particular significance, as the UK Committee on Climate Change estimate that EU policies will contribute to around 50% of the UK’s potential emission reduction to 2030. Secondly, will the UK still have the same access to climate change funding flows, such as the EU budget and the European Investment Bank, as other EU countries do? A harder version of ‘Brexit’, involving leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, restrictions on trade and less access to skilled workers could increase the costs and delay the delivery of low carbon technology infrastructure.

Thirdly, the UK has announced its intention to withdraw from Euratom, the European atomic energy community. Possible consequences include a reduction in foreign investment in UK nuclear power facilities and it is unclear how the UK will replace the procedures and regulations previously managed by Euratom, including the transportation of nuclear materials across Europe. Unless new treaties relating to the transportation of nuclear materials between the EU and the UK are quickly agreed, the UK could run out of nuclear fuel within two years, halting the production of nuclear energy. Fourthly, it is unclear what will happen regarding UK involvement in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EUETS). If the UK does leave the EUETS, this leaves the difficult question of what to do with UK carbon credits - the alternatives, a domestic ETS or a carbon tax, will take time to implement.

Brexit also raises a number of questions for wider EU climate policy. An engaging interview with fellow student (and COP CAS alumnus) Ben Wōden, who was seconded to the House of Commons Business, Energy

and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, highlighted that the EU banked on the UK to achieve more than its NDC Share, and that Brexit will mean that the EU has to impose more stringent restrictions on its remaining member countries. This raises questions of justice and whether the EU could be reluctant to sign future international agreements if they fear other countries leaving the EU. Moreover, as the UK has typically been a strong supporter of climate change policy, Brexit could lead to weaker EU climate policies.

Climate change is a long-term issue that must be addressed with long-term policies. As the UK enters unchartered territory, it is extremely important that COP24 provides a platform to help the UK public understand the uncertainty and complexity which Brexit poses for climate negotiations and what the ramifications of Brexit for international climate negotiations could be. If voters in other countries thinking of leaving the EU are to make an informed choice, the potential impacts of leaving the EU on climate negotiations must be shared with them.