Many are trying to answer the question of what the UK’s energy and climate change policy might look like if we leave the EU. So, what do those behind the Brexit campaign have to say on this subject?
As it turns out, there appear to be only two relatively clear strategies on energy and climate policy put forward by the groups campaigning to leave the EU.
One of these was published in August 2014 by Business for Britain. However, this document has since quietly disappeared from the group’s website.
Meanwhile, the scenario proposed by Fresh Start, a group of about 100 Eurosceptic MPs, was published in 2012.
As such, both proposals are, at the very least, outdated as neither of them have been updated to take into account the Paris climate deal which the UK is signed on to.
Business for Britain
Taking a closer look, Business for Britain’s ‘Energy Policy and the EU’ briefing paper aims to offer “practical solutions” for decision makers in the lead up to the referendum.
However, the URL (businessforbritain.org/BFBEnergyPaper.pdf) for this paper simply re-directs you back to the homepage. (You can find a copy archived here.) So, it’s worth asking to what degree any energy policy is a priority for the group.
In “not taking a stance on the climate change debate” the 2014 paper argues that EU policy and regulations have driven up the cost of energy in the UK.
“Expensive European regulation has become a serious problem for British businesses,” it reads. It’s worth noting, however, that a recent analysis of the impact of Brexit by Energydesk shows that leaving the European Union could add billions to the cost of fuel.
“In short,” Business for Britain concludes, “EU lawmakers need to show that they are using evidence when they are devising policy and demonstrate that, for all future energy policy proposals, the EU is considering affordability, international competitiveness and security of supply, not just sustainability.”
It also argues that the EU should not set any new renewables targets for member states, and that future targets should be for “emissions overall” – it calls for a re-assessment of the EU’s 2030 climate targets in which the various goals for emissions and renewable energy would simply be stated as one emissions reduction target.
The paper also calls for a review of the EU emissions trading scheme to allow it to become “more flexible” and for Britain to consider opting out of the scheme, as well as EU renewables targets generally.
Meanwhile, the group Economists for Britain, also laments the cost of EU climate policies in a paper on Brexit and the economy.
Writing on “too much regulation”, Tim Congdon, professor at the University of Buckingham (which is known for its connection to the climate sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation) is critical of the “zeal” with which the EU has adopted climate targets and the knock-on effect leading to coal plant closures.
A similar theme of ‘keeping bills down’ and ‘cost efficiency’ can be found in Fresh Start’s environment briefing paper.
And like Business for Britain, it is careful to state “we have deliberately not challenged the science of anthropomorphic [sic] climate change”.
Among the manifesto’s proposals includes ditching current and post-2020 targets for renewable energy and instead investing in shale gas, new nuclear, and carbon capture and storage, in order to ensure the UK can meet its climate goals at a lower cost. (Sound familiar?)
As Leadsom said in a speech last month: “Leaving the EU will give us freedom to keep bills down, to meet our climate change targets in the cheapest way possible, and of course, keep the lights on.”
As the Fresh Start environment strategy concludes, “in order to tackle the risk of increased fuel poverty, while simultaneously tackling the challenge of building a low-carbon economy for the 21st Century, the UK should explore any possible short-term scope for re-negotiation of the 2020 renewable energy targets. If such moves prove unfruitful, the key battle will centre on what targets will be set post-2020.”
“Whilst the business case for government support for learning and innovation in a range of promising low carbon energy technologies is clear,” it continues, “the need to meet the EU2020 renewable targets constitutes a burdensome and most unnecessarily expensive policy.”
The main Vote Leave campaign on the other hand, mostly just critiques EU energy policy on its website. Among its links for more information is the Business for Britain briefing paper.
Vote Leave offers just one sentence suggesting what it might do should Britain leave the European Union: “If we Vote Leave, we will have the power again to cut the cost of energy, repeal harmful regulation and help ensure that essential power plants stay open, fending off the risk of widespread power cuts.”
A bit more clarity on this statement is found higher up in the energy section on the Vote Leave website, which reads: “The EU, by contrast, has created problems for energy security, tied our hands on decarbonisation, and risks making us more dependent on Putin’s Russia.”
Like Congdon, it also laments the closure of coal plants.
Brexit Climate Deniers
Of course, there are other scenarios too. And given the deep-rooted Brexit-climate denier connection, none of these seem optimistic.
As mapping by DeSmog UK revealed, Vote Leave can count several climate sceptic individuals among its members including Matt Ridley and Lord Lawson.
And as Green MP Caroline Lucas and the UK’s former top climate diplomat John Ashton recently warned in the Guardian, right-wing Tories may go so far as to try and repeal the UK’s legally binding 2008 Climate Change Act.
“The record of the leading Brexiters, in whose image a post-referendum government would be shaped, offers no reassurance that they would resist any of this,” they write.
Indeed, at the centre of the Brexit debate sit politicians who have long been part of the country’s climate sceptic fringe – from Justice Secretary Michael Gove who once pushed for global warming to be removed from the national geography curriculum to Boris Johnson who’s flirted with climate scepticism in his Telegraph columns, and Owen Paterson who sought to slash climate change spending as environment secretary.
Even Leadsom, upon entering her role as Energy Minister, had to ask whether climate change was real.
Should a post-Brexit government be made up of these individuals and led by Johnson, as some have speculated, it’s not difficult to imagine the direction the UK’s energy and climate policy might go.
Photo: Back Boris 2012 Campaign via Flickr