The initial international Brexit media explosion has faded somewhat at this point, but in its wake many may remain interested in how this major change will impact key aspects of UK society, such as energy and climate change policy. Very fortunately, Lord Teverson, a member of the House of Lords, and the Chairman of the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, generously answered some questions for CleanTechnica.
1. Is it too early to tell if Brexit will make it more difficult to work with EU members on issues like climate change and air pollution?
We still have little idea what Brexit will look like, except that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. The Government, at the moment, is sending out messages that it is not looking towards isolation, but a continued and strong involvement with the EU and its member states. What the deal will be at the end of the day, nobody knows.
However, once no longer an EU member, the UK will be absent from the table when environmental ministers meet to take decisions around environmental policy and legislation. When we export to the EU we will still have to meet those environmental product standards.
Both climate change and air pollution are cross-border issues. Brits were central to the EU negotiation at Paris. That core role will no longer be possible. It may be that other states, Poland is an example, that are less keen on decarbonisation have a bigger say on future EU policy positions. It will then be up to the UK whether it still decides to align itself with the EU approach at future COPs, or maybe team up with other groups.
Air quality is a growing challenge in the UK with activists and the public becoming more aware of the dangers and costs of pollution in terms of lives and health. Taking the UK government to the European courts to force them to fulfill their obligations has been an important ploy for British citizens. With Brexit, that fall-back option disappears. But maybe the real answer is that UK Governments should just comply with their own legislation.
2. Will Brexit impact UK renewable energy or energy storage goals?
The UK is signed up to the 2020 EU renewable energy targets. Those stay in place at the very least till the UK leaves. It is already struggling to meet the 15%, so I’m not sure that the outcome will be any different. But Brexit, when it finally happens, will take away the threat of proceedings against the UK from the European Court of Justice.
The UK government has resisted the renewable targets beyond 2020, looking for levels of decarbonisation while remaining technologically neutral. So it is almost inevitable — unless there is a change of Government — that renewable targets will disappear from the UK’s range of climate change goals.
Energy storage will become increasingly important over coming years, not least as a way to deal with renewable variability, and clean power for transport. Perhaps a big challenge brought by Brexit will be the UK coming out of the mainstream of the Horizon 2020 research programmes. Pan-European research in the energy field is crucial to technological progress.
3. Has Brexit influenced any of your connections with past collaborators or done any damage to important partnerships with EU members, when it comes to energy and the environment?
No, it’s too early.
4. Professor Grubb mentioned that the UK Climate Change Act is the predominant governing legislative instrument for climate change in the UK. Was or is there an EU law that takes precedence over this act?
No, the UK is ahead of the EU in terms of its climate change ambitions with an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 against a 1990 baseline. This is what drives UK climate change policy together, with the five year carbon budgets demanded by the 2008 Climate Change Act. Parliament has just agreed on the 5th Carbon Budget (2028–2032) at a level of 57% below 1990 levels.
Of course, it is one thing setting targets and agreeing budgets; meeting them is the challenge. There is much to be done as we move towards the 2020s when the planned emissions reductions really start to bite.
5. Would the UK want to make a change in direction as it relates to climate change?
The Government has made it clear that it intends to continue the UK’s current climate change ambitions. The Climate Change Act of 2008 that set this policy was supported across all parties in Parliament. But of course new governments can change policy and in the future there will not be an EU climate framework to constrain any change.
6. How integrated is the UK energy market with the rest of Europe, and how might this change as a result of Brexit?
The UK is no longer self-sufficient in its energy needs. Oil and gas production in the North Sea has fallen rapidly over the last decade with Norwegian gas becoming a key source of energy supply. The UK, after many years of no development, is now expanding its electricity inter-connectors between the European mainland and Ireland. This will not change because of Brexit as there are few alternatives.
7. Are there advantages and disadvantages to being integrated with the rest of Europe, in terms of energy?
The advantages are clear. In terms of energy security Europe is a politically stable area of the world. We have LNG imports from the Gulf, but I wouldn’t want to be dependent upon them. From a demand point of view we have a one hour time difference from our close continental Europe friends. That means we have electricity demand peaks at different times, so inter-connectors are good news and can avoid extra capital investment for peak times here in the UK. With renewables it is more likely that the times of wind, tides, or sun will be spread in time over the wider geographical area.
In terms of downsides, then of course outside of the EU we have less control over our energy partners, and no decision-making over the EU’s rapidly mutating single energy market.
8. Will Brexit have an impact on clean energy innovation between the UK and the rest of the EU members?
I suspect so, but its importance is not possible to gauge at this stage. I suspect it will be determined by whether the UK manages to stay within the single market. Programmes like Horizon 2020 are key for research and innovation in energy as well as the many other fields it focuses on. States outside the EU can participate, but have little influence on policy.
9. Are there any subsidy or tax implications of Brexit on clean, renewable energy in the UK, such as taxes on imported clean energy technology from EU members, like wind turbines, or is this a non-issue?
I suspect this will be near the bottom of the ‘worry list’, but yes, tariffs impede trade and efficiently working markets. Again it will depend on the eventual trade deal between the UK and its former fellow member states.
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