Brexit and climate denial at COP24

| 10th December 2018
Molly Scott Cato in Bristol
Bristol Green Party
What is the future for UK climate policy under May’s Brexit deal - ask UK attendees of the COP24 in Poland.

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There has been much analysis of what Theresa May’s deal will mean for the economy - but virtually none on what it means for tackling our climate emergency.

With delegates meeting in Katowice for the COP24 climate conference, now seems like a good time to put this under the spotlight.

There is well documented evidence of the close links between climate denial and the Brexit campaign. Many of the individuals and organisations pushing climate scepticism are based at or around 55 Tufton Street in London – which has become synonymous with bogus charities and so-called think tanks pushing an extreme free market agenda.

Inconvenient regulations

Part of this agenda includes tearing up inconvenient regulations that protect the environment and workers’ rights and that tax the polluter. Key amongst these dodgy outfits is the Global Warming Policy Foundation, fronted by leading Brexiter Nigel Lawson.

But with the Brexit headbangers apparently losing out to a softer form of Brexit offered by Theresa May’s deal, do we need to worry about how the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration will impact on climate policy?

Well, to the delight of hard Brexit climate sceptics, May’s deal presents an open goal for climate deregulation.

While the UK would have to comply with EU climate regulations during the transition period, the Political Declaration, which is supposed to guide our relationship with the EU beyond 2020, is effectively a blank canvass with no legal authority.

Clause 78 of the declaration states: “The future relationship should reaffirm the Parties' commitments to international agreements to tackle climate change, including those which implement the UNFCCs on Climate Change, such as the Paris Agreement.”

Climate commitments

However, it seems perfectly feasible that the UK could backslide on other climate commitments made whilst we have been a member of the EU. This means, to the undoubted delight of regulation burning Brexiteers, that many climate and environmental rules could be revoked after Brexit.

Climate and environmental policies would be enforced by the UK's own 'green watchdog'. Under current government plans, this body would have no powers relating to climate change. Without any legal authority to impose its own sanctions it would merely be able to issue “advisory notices”.

The government has argued that climate change is already covered by the Climate Change Act 2008. But the UK is on track to miss its own targets under this Act, which is in any case outdated, as 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 will fail to meet the Paris Agreement ambition of 1.5C maximum warming.

The UK is also one of the worst offenders in the EU for flouting environmental rules. The European Court of Justice has ruled against the UK government 30 times. If the government are no longer accountable to the EU, and the new watchdog has no legal powers, who exactly will hold them to account?

But perhaps we need not fear; our knight in green armour, Michael Gove, will rush in to rescue climate policy as part of his green Brexit. As a leading Brexiter, Gove is compromised from the outset. He is part of the Tory Global Britain brigade; siding with those in 55 Tufton Street who believe in unfettered free trade.

Roulette wheel

The idea that deregulated turbo capitalism is in any way compatible with high environmental standards is a lie.

It seems clear that climate action for Gove amounts to vague talk of mitigation measures including flood defences, plans for agriculture, planting more trees and restoring peatlands. All worthy, but meanwhile the frackers and road and runway builders can continue with fossil fuel business as usual. 

But what else can we expect anyway from the Conservatives who received £2.5m in donations from the energy sector between 2010 and 2015, and who continue to throw money at the fossil fuel industry in the form of tax breaks for oil and gas exploration?

For the UK to leave the EU’s strong climate regulations with such limited knowledge of what the future regime might look like represents a huge risk.

The stakes are too high. The IPCC has made clear we have a small window of opportunity to tackle the biggest threat facing the future of life on earth. We cannot afford to gamble our climate on the Brexit roulette wheel. Which is exactly why a People’s Vote is not just a vote to save the country from a damaging Brexit, but also the planet from climate chaos. 

This Author 

Molly Scott Cato is a Green MEP for the South West of England. 

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