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.