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UK Urged To “Stay Calm And Transform On” As Government Claims Full Commitment To Climate Action

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It’s been a week since the world began waking up to the news that the United Kingdom had voted to exit the European Union, and very little has been made clear in the aftermath. Experts had warned that a “Brexit” would have unfortunate consequences for Britain’s environmental and energy future, but outgoing UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has told UK business leaders to “stay calm and transform on,” while the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd has insisted the UK remains fully committed to climate action, despite the Brexit.

One Week On

The UK went to the polls in its European Union membership referendum last Thursday, with 51.9% of the country voting to leave the EU. Within a day, Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would step down as Prime Minister within three months, despite calls from the wide majority of British political players that he stay on regardless. UK Independence Party leader, and ‘Leave’ campaigner, Nigel Farage, was forced to announce on air the very morning after that one of the leading campaign promises — that the NHS would receive £350 million originally earmarked for EU membership responsibilities — was in fact a mistake.

Fundamentals Unchanged

Environmental consultant thinktank E3G responded immediately to the news, noting that the decision to Leave “has created a great deal of market and political uncertainty that will shape UK and EU energy for years to come.” However, E3G was quick to note that the results of the referendum will not “change the fundamentals”:

  • The global climate crisis demands that the UK and the EU accelerate the decarbonization of their economies. The UK and EU must continue to work together and with international partners – as they have done in recent years – to strengthen global efforts on climate change. The UK’s domestic Climate Change Act remains in place and the UK will ratify the Paris Agreement. EU climate targets and the EU commitment to implement the Paris Agreement still stand.
  • Both the UK and other EU countries already benefit greatly from an integrated energy market, and these benefits will continue to grow through the energy transition. The underlying economics point to a mutual interest in continued UK participation in the integrated European energy market.
  • The UK and EU will have strong drivers to maintain investment and jobs despite the economic uncertainty created by the referendum. Core economic drivers for creating a modern clean energy and transport system have strengthened rather than weakened.

In response, a number of environmental groups joined their voices to urge calm and focus in the wake of the vote:

Stephanie Pfeifer, Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC) CEO, said: “We urge ministers to bring forward proposals that fully reflect the independent scientific advice of the Committee on Climate Change.”

Nick Molho, Aldersgate Group Executive Director, said: “it is in the UK’s economic and environmental interest to engage positively in international negotiations on climate change and other environmental issues and support the growth of its low carbon economy through national policy.”

Hugh McNeal, Renewables UK Chief Executive said: “Our focus will continue to be on delivering power to the UK at the lowest cost. Our future is bright; the European and global opportunities remain immense for the industries I’m proud to represent.”


However, a number of agencies raised concerns over the move, echoing the many weeks and months of concerns that led up to the vote.

David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK, said: “Environmental challenges don’t stop at borders and many require international solutions. Leaving the European Union brings risks and uncertainties for our wildlife and wild places, but with the right policies the UK could continue to be a global force for the protection of nature. As an immediate step we should retain the environmental protections that have delivered cleaner air and beaches, helped preserve habitats and cut carbon emissions – and build on them to reverse the environmental decline we are experiencing.”

UK Officials Vow To Continue Environmental Work

Boris Johnson, one of the leading Leave campaigners, and the favorite to step into Prime Minister David Cameron’s shoes, took to his regular column in The Telegraph to assure Britain that “Britain is part of Europe — and always will be,” adding that the environment will continue to be the beneficiary of “intense and intensifying European cooperation.”

In a speech delivered Wednesday, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd reassured attendees to the Business & Climate Summit that the UK Government is “committed to delivering the best outcome for the British people — and that includes delivering the secure, affordable, clean energy our families and business need.”

“Climate change has not been downgraded as a threat. It remains one of the most serious long-term risks to our economic and national security.”

In response, Sue Armstrong Brown, policy director at Green Alliance, said: “With her speech today, Amber Rudd has embodied the best of the Conservative political tradition, demonstrating that the government’s commitment to the protection of our green and pleasant land is undiminished, despite the fast changing geopolitical landscape. Green Alliance welcomes Rudd’s assurances that the UK’s energy priorities remain the same and that our country’s renewables sector will continue to grow in the years to come. Likewise, we applaud her refusal to relinquish the mantel of international climate leadership that the UK has worked so hard to achieve.”

The UK’s Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, also offered her own reassurances, reiterating the UK Government’s commitment to the Climate Change Act, stating in a speech in front of the Energy and Climate Committee hearing on investor confidence that the government remains committed to solving the energy trilemma of energy security, low cost, and low carbon energy.

While UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, in a press conference on Tuesday, told the UK to “stay calm and transform on.”

“However, we must remember that Brexit was not about climate change, it was not about whether the UK should continue to modernize its manufacturing and industry, it was not about innovation – which is the opportunity we have by acting on climate change.”

Not Good Enough

Despite reassurances, however, it seems that not everyone has been mollified by government assurances or Christiana Figueres’ catchy phrasing.

“In a head to head between Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom, there was much needed reassurance from both Ministers that there is still a full commitment to the Climate Change Act and UK global leadership on tackling climate change,” said John Sauven, Greenpeace director. “Both wanted to reassure investors that the UK is open for green business and that the government’s path remains the same. But soothing words are not good enough. Green investor confidence in the UK was shaky before Brexit because of the government’s ever changing and incoherent policies, which neither minister seem willing to get to grips with even now.”

Even Sue Armstrong Brown from Green Alliance, despite her applause of Rudd’s assurances, was clear on what needs to happen if government assurances are to be borne out:

“The first measure of success will be the government’s adoption of the fifth carbon budget, promised tomorrow. This must be quickly followed by a robust carbon plan, to improve investors’ damaged confidence and to enable the UK to attract much needed infrastructure investment.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Jonathan Grant, director of sustainability at PwC, raised further concerns: “There is a risk that this could kick EU ratification of the Paris agreement into the long grass.”

“Today’s outcome is a major setback for the type of collaboration needed to tackle global environmental issues such as climate change. The UK government has been a champion of climate action at home, within the EU, and in Paris. This leadership is at risk, with many supporters of Brexit also opposed to climate policies such as carbon taxes and efficiency standards.”

Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser on climate change at WWF-UK, addressed both the UK’s fifth carbon budget and the Paris Agreement:

“The UK has signed up to the Paris agreement in its own right. Outside the European Union the UK can still play a leading role in fighting climate change. It should ratify the Paris agreement as soon as possible, pass the fifth carbon budget under our domestic Climate Change Act and turn this into an ambitious international pledge to cut emissions.”

National Grid, the operator and owner of the country’s electricity grid, has issued a warning that UK energy bills could increase if the UK was excluded from Europe’s internal energy market (IEM). “It is vital the UK retains access to the IEM, which provides stability for energy companies and helps keep household bills down,” a National Grid spokeswoman told The Guardian. “UK energy security depends on gas and electricity from the IEM and it is essential therefore that we take no risks with that. The issue of energy needs to be treated with the highest importance by the government as the negotiations on Britain’s exit begin.”

Uncertain Future

In the end, it is unsurprising that there is such a wealth of conflicting and confusing information being poured out by proponents and experts on all sides of the debate. One thing for sure, however, is that the UK is in for an uncertain future — and its environment policy and energy policy and security are going to take a massive hit as a result of that uncertainty.

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