Brexit: What does it mean for climate and energy?


On 23 June, the British people will go to the polls to decide whether they want to leave or remain in the European Union. Following intense negotiations on reforms to the UK’s membership of the EU – which focused on migration and the Eurozone – on 19 February, Prime Minister David Cameron fired the official starting gun on the referendum campaign. As influential politicians, business leaders and organisations lineup to take sides on the debate, there is immense speculation on what the decision could mean for a wide range of environmental issues, what impact it could have on the UK’s ability to effectively tackle climate change, and how it could hit the UK’s renewable energy industry.



Key Points



Tools and Resources


Key Quotes


  • “A vote for “Brexit” would significantly damage the UK’s ability to manage climate risks to UK citizens, business and global interests.  The UK has been a leading advocate for ambitious EU climate policy since 1997. Through its world-class diplomatic networks the UK has greatly multiplied the impact of European climate policy internationally. Without the UK, the balance of forces inside the EU would shift towards lower climate ambition; driven by Poland’s increased importance.” – Nick Mabey, chief executive at E3G
  • “[If you are outside of the EU] then you’re not in the room making the decisions in the same way and we’re not one of 27 influencers. “We are probably the largest influencer in terms of setting out the plan and delivering on the energy market. So we can’t help shape it – shape it in the best way for the UK consumer and UK businesses. That would be a loss because you would be going into an area of uncertainty.” – Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
  • “Of course it is the threat of catastrophic climate change which hangs over everything else we’re doing to protect our environment. Surely there is no better reason to work with our neighbours than the need to tackle this complex cross-border catastrophe in our midst. If we join forces with other countries, strengthening the EU-wide rules on carbon emissions that are already in place, then we have a chance of keeping future generations safe. Going it alone simply is an option for a challenge of this magnitude.” – Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas
  • “The environment must be at the heart of the debate about our European future. The safety of the air we breathe, combating climate change and extreme weather wrecking homes and livelihoods will depend on us working with many countries to face these challenges. Now is not the time to be pulling apart.” – Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth Chief Executive
  • “Brexit would leave Britain at the sidelines rather than as a frontrunner in the EU’s low-carbon transition. Britain can still choose to remain part of the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) if it leaves the EU as the ETS already covers the emissions from installations in three non-EU countries. As the UK Climate Change Act partly relies on the EU’s carbon market to meet its carbon budgets, this makes sense. However, Britain would lose its seat at the negotiation table and be forced to watch from the sidelines while the other EU Member States and the European Parliament agree on the direction of the EU’s climate policies for it.” – Femke de Jong, Carbon Market Watch
  • “The word to stress is relationships. The challenges we face in terms of air pollution, in terms of making common product standards across the European market – they’re not done in one-off treaties, they are done through negotiation. That’s what we risk losing through Brexit.” – Alastair Harper, Green Alliance
  • “Nature knows no boundaries so a mechanism for negotiating between nations is essential if we are to continue to improve the health of our environment. The EU provides that and if it didn’t exist we’d have to reinvent it.” – Dr Helen Phillips, former CEO of English Nature
  • “Britons have benefited greatly from EU environmental policy and Britain inside the EU has also been able to shape it. We would lose this ability if we were to leave the EU, while it is very likely that we would still have to follow EU environmental laws if we wished to retain access to the EU’s single market. This would effectively reduce UK sovereignty rather than increasing it. Paradoxically, perhaps, membership of the EU is an essential condition for the UK to exercise some sovereign influence over the European forces that affect it.” – Professor Paul Ekins OBE, professor of resources and environmental policy, UCL
  • “So, would leaving the EU shield us from TTIP and its associated issues? No. Our own government is very much a driver of the push for deregulation in Europe, and left to its own devices and tasked with replacing (or not) UK regulation formerly made at the EU level it would likely settle on standards far lower than anything TTIP could dredge up. Indeed, this is something many of the outers explicitly pray Brexit will achieve.” – Sam Lowe, Campaigner for trade, finance and land issues, Friends of the Earth


  • “As the EU comes down for neoliberalism, austerity and capital against popular will, Greens and other ‘progressives’ must consider switching sides in the ‘in or out’ debate, writes Jenny Jones. A Union that stands for TTIP, corporate empowerment and the trampling of Greek democracy is one we are better off leaving.” – Jenny Jones, Green Party member of the London Assembly
  • “Brexit could immeasurably improve British climate change policy, for it would enable us to have a sensible one. Freed from the penchant of the continental cousins for regulation, targets, feed in tariffs and the rest, we could do what the Stern Review, William Nordhaus, Richard Tol and every other economist who has studied the problem has been urging us to do. Stick on a carbon tax of the appropriate size, declare the problem solved and go off and do something more interesting.” – Tim Worstall, senior fellow at Adam Smith Institute
  • “One of the most damaging policies the EU has visited upon us is dear and scarce energy. The UK needs to be free to have its own energy policy based on domestic security of supply and lower prices. EU energy policies are pricing energy intensive industry out of the UK, and also damaging the cost base of general industry. The UK has lost large amounts of capacity in aluminium, steel, ceramics and other basics. The renewables requirement encouraging dependence on wind energy has left the UK with expensive intermittent sources, which require going to the great cost of building back up stand by power.” – John Redwood, Conservative MP

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