Brexit: No excuse to ‘go back to year zero’ on climate


As the UK’s vote to leave the European Union sends shockwaves across the world, green groups warn the move cannot be an excuse to “go back to year zero on environmental protection”. In the hours since the final votes were counted the pound has crashed to the lowest levels since 1985, UK prime minister David Cameron has announced his intentions to step down, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a second Scottish independence referendum was now highly likely. The exact details of the UK’s exit from the European Union will be years in the making, but fears of prolonged uncertainty and a hiatus of clean energy investment are already palpable, as are worries that decades of progress on environmental legislation will be unpicked. Coming halfway through what’s set to be the hottest year on record, and six months after nearly 200 countries agreed the Paris Agreement, the UK’s decision to leave the EU does not erase its strong commitment to decarbonise its economy. Green groups now warn that there is no “time for the environment to take a back seat” and urge “politicians of all parties to affirm their commitment to strong environmental laws and to guarantee united action on climate change.


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  • “Many of the laws that make our drinking and bathing water safe, our air cleaner, our fishing industry more sustainable and our climate safer now hang by a thread. But Greenpeace is determined that this country does not go back to year zero on environmental protection. Over the coming months we all need to demand that the government replaces European regulations protecting nature with new UK laws that are just as strong.” – Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven
  • “Leaving the EU is likely to put an upwards pressure on energy bills, partly due to the direct financial costs of Brexit and also the impact of reduced investor confidence. So an immediate challenge for the Government following this vote will be to prevent bills rising. Affordability and security of supply have been enhanced by our increasing gas and electricity connections with the EU. A choice for the government now is whether it wants to continue expanding those connections and hence the benefits to hard-working British families, or to shut up shop. On climate change there has been speculation that an independent UK would scrap measures to tackle the problem. These measures are mostly enshrined in British law, however, and it seems likely that the strong cross-party majority in favour of reducing emissions in both Houses of Parliament would seek to defend them.” – Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU)
  • “All evidence shows that EU membership has brought many environmental benefits for citizens and nature in the UK and across Europe, resulting in cleaner air and water, helping preserve habitats and species, accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and cutting carbon emissions. It is now important that the UK government commits to retaining the high environmental standards set by EU legislation. Neither the environmental decline we are experiencing nor climate change stop at borders, and they need to be tackled urgently, whether as a member of the EU or not. We also regret losing the UK as a strong and effective advocate for ambitious climate action at EU level, and call on all other Member States to step up their efforts in delivering on the Paris Agreement.“ – Geneviève Pons, Director of WWF European Policy Office
  • “This result raises serious questions for investor certainty, energy security and much needed investment in the UK energy infrastructure. Energy policy must be a priority for the Government now, with industry needing reassurance and ministerial clarity on priorities. The first in this list must be confirmation of the 5th carbon budget, which will hopefully give some confidence in the long-term direction of UK energy policy. The vast majority of our members had fears of Brexit, and we will be consulting with them and government in the coming weeks to set out a plan for continued low carbon energy investment, deployment and assurance of the 117,000 jobs in this sector.” – REA Chief Executive, Dr Nina Skorupska CBE
  • “As a trade association, RenewableUK has a wide range of member companies with differing views on the result of the EU referendum. The British people have made their judgement, and of course we respect that. 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.” – RenewableUK’s Chief Executive, Hugh McNeal
  • “Voters have made their views known on Britain’s future out of Europe. We respect that democratic decision of course, but it leaves me shocked, disappointed and extremely concerned about the future of environmental protections in the UK. Today, therefore I challenge politicians of all parties to affirm their commitment to strong UK environmental laws and to guarantee united action on climate change, despite our upcoming exit from the EU… Now as the UK prepares to go it alone, we have no idea which laws will be retained since those who campaigned for Brexit did not have a united position. They failed to make clear during the campaign which environmental laws would be kept. We therefore call upon all parties to promise to maintain existing protections.” – ClientEarth CEO James Thornton
  • “The referendum may be over but many of the difficult debates are only just beginning. The environment must be at the heart of our negotiations with Europe and how we create a positive future for our country. We cannot let the UK return to the days of ‘the dirty man of Europe’. Protections for our birds and wildlife, our beaches and rivers, must not be sacrificed in the name of cutting away so-called EU ‘red tape’. The environment was rarely mentioned during the referendum but it must now move up the political agenda. With urgent issues like climate change, air pollution and destruction of the natural world already impacting this generation, not just the next, we don’t have time for the environment to take a back seat through years of negotiations.” – Craig Bennett, Friends of the Earth’s CEO
  • “Today marks a sad day for Europe, but the Brexit vote does not change the reality of the climate crisis that we face. Now more than ever is the time to unite and cooperate to tackle the problems such as climate change that do not know borders. The urgency to act and implement the Paris Agreement is still there. There is no reason to delay the ongoing reform of the EU ETS or for the Scottish Rapporteur to resign abruptly. Scottish citizens have cast an unequivocal vote to stay in the EU.” – Carbon Market Watch
  • “Today’s outcome is a major setback for the type of collaboration needed to tackle global environmental issues like climate change. The UK Government has been a champion of climate action at home, within the EU, and in the Paris climate talks. However this leadership is at risk, with many supporters of Brexit also opposed to climate policies such as carbon taxes and efficiency standards. The immediate priority will be to provide reassurance to investors to avoid undermining the low carbon sector. Any further uncertainty will unsettle the carbon market, with the price of EU carbon credits already falling sharply when trading opened this morning.” – Jonathan Grant, Director, PwC sustainability and climate change
  • “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. The Government’s proposed 25 year plans for Food and Farming and for Nature will now be measures of how seriously Ministers are about taking care of our countryside.  Integrating the needs of farmers and consumers with wider environmental priorities would reassure those who worry that nature will be low on the Government’s priority list.” – WWF-UK CEO David Nussbaum
  • “Environmental and low carbon economy issues were largely overlooked during the EU referendum campaign. Yet, both within and outside the EU, the UK has often taken a leading position on tackling environmental issues such as climate change. Today, its low carbon and renewable energy economy has a turnover in excess of £46bn, employs over 238,000 full time workers directly and British businesses are leading exporters of clean technologies such as ultra-low emission cars. With serious environmental issues facing the world economy and with low carbon investment rapidly growing globally, 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. Showing its commitment to the Climate Change Act by adopting the fifth carbon budget and a robust carbon plan to deliver it and making rapid progress on a 25 year plan to improve the state of the UK’s natural environment must now be essential priorities for the government.” – Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group
  • “This is bad news for the UK, Europe and the environment. All evidence shows that the EU has brought many environmental benefits for citizens and nature across Europe. It is tragic that these advantages failed to help convince a majority of people in the UK to vote remain. It is uncertain exactly what will happen next. However, it is clear that the calls by UK Prime Minister David Cameron for EU reform based on haphazardly slashing red tape did not influence the debate. Instead of giving in to short-term demands, it should now be clear to the European Commission, MEPs and Member States that another way forward is needed to create a Europe that listens to its citizens and that is fit to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century, not least by stepping up EU measures to address climate change, resource depletion and ecosystem collapse.” – Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General

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