The EU leading on Climate Action

Today is World Oceans Day. Our oceans are the life support system of our planet, regulating our climate and producing around half of our oxygen, as well as being a rich source of biodiversity. I’ve previously written about the important role the EU has played in protecting our local environment, but what about our global environment? Climate change drives ocean warming, and is the most daunting issue facing us all today. But it’s one issue we can overcome if we tackle it together, and in doing so create a cleaner, greener and more equal society.

Our historic carbon emissions are causing ocean acidification as well as warming the climate, and today our leaders recognise the importance of acting now, even if they sometimes fail to do so. Climate diplomacy is one of the best examples of the European Union acting to facilitate cooperation among its member countries, and their collective voices on the global stage, working together towards the common good. Our influence and ability to be ambitious in climate negotiations is through EU membership. Together, we represent around 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the third largest in the world behind China (at around 24%), and the US (at around 12%). The UK on its own emits a small and declining share of global greenhouse gas emissions, and as such would be left lacking in influence at international climate negotiations if it were to leave the EU.

As part of the EU therefore, we were instrumental to the successful negotiation of the Paris Agreement at COP21. This was because we successfully used our position as an ambitious bloc of developed countries to bridge the historically conflicting interests of reluctant developed countries and ambitious developing countries. The EU did so by building the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ over the course of 2015, which eventually drew in well over 100 countries, including other big greenhouse gas emitters such as the US and Brazil.

Under previous governments, the UK even led on pushing the EU to be ambitious with its own climate policy. As a result, the block set a 20:20:20 target under Europe 2020. That’s 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 20% increase in efficiency, and 20% energy production from renewables from 1990 levels and we’re set to surpass those today. The UK is legally bound through this to produce 15% of our energy from renewables, and with a government so keen to slash support for renewables, having these obligations and targets is essential to prevent us dragging our feet.

To help us meet these targets, the EU supports the development of low carbon technologies. For example, the NER300 programme for renewable energy technologies and carbon capture and storage is one of the world’s largest funding programmes for innovative low-carbon energy demonstration projects, and we’ve already heard lots about the Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. This is alongside our strong Nature Directives that protect our marine and terrestrial envrionment.

“But we can fund these projects ourselves without the EU,” cry some Brexiteers. Well yes we could, but all it takes is a look at the leading figures of the Leave campaign to see the grim picture they paint for our environmental laws and targets, climate change focussed or otherwise. Michael Gove tried to remove climate change from the National Curriculum, Nigel Lawson is an outspoken anthropogenic climate change denier, and the other Nigel is the leader of a party that would scrap the UK climate change act.

So we know then that protecting our environment, our oceans, and our climate is not on the Leave agenda here. In the EU we have some of the strongest environmental protections in the world and lead on progressive climate action globally. We should be celebrating that and building on it with our dedicated citizens and NGOs, not putting it at risk for Leave’s sake of cutting red tape.

 

Stop Climate Change
Greens-EFA MEPs outside of the European Commission

Leaving the EU: the View from Green Business

We are delighted to share this guest post from Juliet Davenport, founder and chief executive of Good Energy.

Like all businesses, green businesses need a stable legal framework within which to operate. There is no question that leaving the EU would introduce a lot of regulatory change and legal instability, at least in the short term. We would also be likely to see changes in exchange rates between sterling and the euro, with a decline in the value of the pound making imports for our production processes more expensive. This could lead to an increase in the perceived risk of lending to sterling-based businesses and hence higher cost of finance.

All of these economic effects, combined with new trade tariffs that we may face as a result of leaving the single market, will increase the costs of business and make life more difficult for businesses in the UK. Resilient and adaptable businesses would of course find a way to flourish, but it is important to note that it will probably be harder to find investment in the post-Brexit scenario. Households will experience the indirect consequences of these economic changes. If the cost of doing business goes up, this will be passed on to customers in the form of higher prices. In the energy sector this is likely to mean higher energy bills for electricity, for example, and since we import 60% of our energy from abroad – including 11% of our electricity from Europe – a price hike would be on the cards for businesses and households.

It is undeniable that the quality of the environment in the UK is protected by EU legislation. The EU has a good record of positive action on environmental issues as diverse as the quality of our beaches, climate change, mandatory targets for renewable energy, and clean air. While most of this legislation would continue to be in place immediately after the vote to leave the EU, the tendency to deny the reality of climate change and view environmental protection law as “red tape” does seem more prevalent in the Brexiteer camp. It is also worth making the point that any national government is less likely to pass strong environmental law than a club of nations.

One of the benefits of EU policy is that it can be made with a longer term perspective and is not driven by the five-year domestic electoral cycle. The indirect nature of EU democracy allows politicians and policy-makers to rise above the narrow interests of a political party and work better for the common good of both citizens and the environment. A decision to leave the EU would lead to a protracted period of negotiation over the exit terms and then a period of rewriting British law. This would be followed by the lengthy period of negotiating new bilateral agreements with a large number of countries to allow us to continue to trade. Not only would this undermine our ability to trade in the short term, and risk the loss of export markets, but it would also require an army of civil servants simply to undertake these negotiations. Government departments which have already been cut to the bone would see resources diverted from existing work, such as enforcing environmental law.

Many of the issues that would confront business if we left that EU are common to all businesses. But from the perspective of a green business we are facing particular threats and it seems clear that green businesses would be better supported by remaining part of the EU.

EU and the Western Powerhouse

The South West has incredible renewable energy resources.

A report from the Resilience Centre in the Forest of Dean calculated that this has the potential to create 122,000 jobs across the region and add over £4bn a year to the regional economy. This is what we call the Western Powerhouse. But our government is determined to develop fracking and new nuclear stations even though these make us dependent on the Chinese and will destroy our economy and our health.
As members of the EU we are bound to meet the renewable energy targets set by EU law. This has the ambitious aim of ensuring 20% of EU energy comes from renewables by 2020. Flying in the face of an extraordinary potential in the area of renewables, our government is nonetheless one of those that tries to undermine more ambitious targets at European level.

Germany is going through an energy revolution that is giving power to the people. In the past decade the share of renewable electricity has risen from 6% to nearly 25%. More than half of the investment in renewables has been made by small investors, meaning that this transition to renewables has empowered local communities and and brought great wealth to rural communities.

While our failure to follow this example and invest in this sector that could create so many economic opportunities is very disappointing, it is clear that things will be much worse for our renewables industry if we were to leave the EU. It is only our European targets that is preventing further job losses and waste of renewable resources in the South West.