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What does Brexit mean for climate change?

2016-06-24-172036_1680x1026_scrotI’m guessing, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that more than half of the population the United Kingdom has just voted to leave the European Union. More than half of the population that voted, that is – 28% didn’t vote.

I’m shocked, and struggling to think about anything else today, so this post is a series of links to articles trying to make sense of what happened in the UK. For what it’s worth I would have voted to remain – if I could have done so. Since I’ve been living outside the UK for more than 15 years I couldn’t vote. I think the debate in the UK was appalling. There are good arguments for leaving the EU and good arguments for remaining. But instead of a debate, we got sound bites, memes, and lies. The debate degenerated to taking back control versus remain’s scare tactics.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments with views on what Brexit means – for climate change and for everything else.

Being in the EU is better than the alternative

Writing in in The Guardian, George Monbiot pointed out some of the things that are wrong with the EU:

The European Union is a festering cesspool of undue influence and opaque lobbying. Prompted at first by the tobacco industry, the European commission is slowly dismantling, through what it calls its “better regulation agenda”, many of the hard-won laws that protect our health, working conditions and wildlife. Once they are torn down, corporate power will be locked in place through the TTIP – the transatlantic trade and investment partnership – it is negotiating with the United States.

But, Monbiot points out, the alternative to the EU is far worse:

By comparison with the British system, however, this noxious sewer is a crystal spring. Every stream of corporate effluent with which the EU poisons political life has a more malodorous counterpart in the UK. The new Deregulation Act, a meta-law of astonishing scope, scarcely known and scarcely debated, insists that all regulators must now “have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth”. Rare wildlife, wheelchair ramps, speed limits, children’s lungs: all must establish their contribution to GDP. What else, after all, are they for?
Britain has become a power base for a legalised financial mafia that strips the assets of healthy companies, turns the nation’s housing into a roulette table, launders money for drug cartels and terrorists, then stashes its gains beyond the reach of police and tax inspectors.

So how did this happen?

I think Larry Elliot sums up very well how a disturbingly large proportion of the British were persuaded to vote leave;

The result speaks volumes about the state of modern Britain. For the better off, a vote to remain was the obvious thing to do. For the less well-off, a vote to leave was their chance to protest about badly paid jobs, zero-hour contracts, bullying employers, and a sense that they had been forgotten.
These economic problems are deep-seated and of long-standing. Most of them have little to do with Europe. But the referendum has given millions of unhappy people a chance to protest. This is a country divided by wealth, geography and class.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, said, “Many communities are fed up with cuts, fed up with economic dislocation and feel very angry at the way they’ve been betrayed and marginalised by successive governments in very poor areas of the country.”


Of course immigration and xenophobia also played a role. Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party fanned the flames. But I don’t believe that the 37% of the UK population that voted leave is racist.

As Gary Younge put it, in The Guardian:

Not everyone, or even most, of the people who voted leave were driven by racism. But the leave campaign imbued racists with a confidence they have not enjoyed for many decades and poured arsenic into the water supply of our national conversation.

Brexit is bad news for the environment

Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth, said the Brexit vote as a “red alert” for the environment.

The impact of the Brexit on the Pound was dramatic:


A financial crash would mean that less money will be available to invest in renewable energy. Matthew Knight, head of energy strategy and government affairs at Siemens, told Climate Home that,

“I am sure anyone contemplating a supply chain investment for renewables will not have made a decision in last couple of months.”

Ed King ironically notes on Climate Home, an economic crisis isn’t all bad news:

A British vote to leave the EU offers potentially good news in the fight against climate change: the resulting economic slump could lead to a fall in greenhouse gas emissions.

But, as King adds, the drop in emissions is likely only to be temporary. The financial crisis in 2008-2009 saw a drop in global emissions of 1.4%. In 2010, emissions increased by 5.9%.

The carbon price on the EU Emissions Trading System fell by 17% to €4.70 on concerns that the UK is entering a recession and that having left the EU, the UK may also decide to leave the ETS.

Brexit and climate change

Farage could end up holding the balance of power after the next election. He admits that he’s clueless when it comes to climate change. “I haven’t got a clue whether climate change is being driven by carbon-dioxide emissions,” he said last year.

He’s oppposed to wind energy:

I think wind energy is the biggest collective economic insanity I’ve seen in my entire life. I’ve never seen anything more stupid, more illogical, or more irrational.

But UKIP supports fracking. Farage’s UKIP party has listed 100 policies on its website. As well as support for fracking, these include abolishing the Department of Energy and Climate Change and repealing the Climate Change Act 2008. UKIP claims that the Climate Change Act costs £18 billion per year. UKIP also proposes cutting £9 billion from the foreign aid budget.

Boris Johnson is the person most likely to take over the Conservative Party after its leader David Cameron resigned this morning. (The Conservative Party is split: Cameron campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, Johnson campaigned to leave.)

Johnson is a climate skeptic. Johnson chooses to ignore the 97% of climate scientists who agree that humans are causing climate change. Instead, he phones up his friend Piers Corbyn who tells him that the activity on the surface of the sun is responsible for climate change.

The fact that Corbyn’s theory has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal doesn’t worry Johnson in the slightest.

He has written several articles featuring Corbyn saying practically the same thing in his column in The Telegraph. Here’s one from 2012, another from 2013, and yet another from 2015.

Just to add to the fun, Piers Corbyn is Jeremy Corbyn’s brother. Here are a couple of screenshots from Piers Corbyn’s website, Weather Action:

Weather Action


Full disclosure: REDD-Monitor has in the past received funding from the European Commission. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

Leave a Reply


  1. Yes the whole debate was a disgrace, but I believe at the end of the day most people voted with their ‘gut’ and filtered out the noise (just as they often do in a jury trial). Imperfect, perhaps, buts that’s democracy.

    I voted Leave, but not through any short term concerns about immigration or economics. I just think that the EU has morphed into a self-justifying, morally, socially, economically, democratically corrupt institution. It no longer cares about the will of the people it purports to serve. It has become incapable of self-reform. So it needs to be torn down and replaced by something better, even if that may be a painful process.

    I can’t say what impact it will have on global environmental policies – hopefully some good will emerge from the quagmire – but whatever you do yo have to bring the people with you.

  2. @Mike (#1) – Thanks for this. My reaction over the day has veered all over the place. I don’t much like the EU, although sometimes it does do some good things. I definitely don’t like the EU Emissions Trading System – but the UK won’t necessarily leave the ETS just because it’s left the EU.

    I would have preferred that the UK stayed in the EU and campaigned for a better EU. Getting rid of the ETS would be a start, as would getting rid of the €55 billion EU farm subsidies.

    FERN argues that as a result of Brexit, “it is already clear that action to protect and restore forests and mitigate climate change will now slow down across the EU”. FERN also raises concerns about the impact that Brexit could have on the EU’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade programme.

  3. Richard Cohn just penned a brilliant viewpoint that some of us might consider to mind (and fill) the gap while these bozos like Nigel and David are scrambling for their quick fix answers that will end up with the SOS:

    “Once again, a false choice (BREXIT) is presented so as to perplex and instill fear in the public. Stay the course or cut rope? Well, how about neither? How about something else, like building new institutions? How about organizing society from the bottom-up rather than the top-down”?

    You´ve exposed alot of the rotten system in the climate change boiler room world, Chris, and this site is one important piece of the solution…

  4. Corporate lobbying and non transparent influence wherever there is political and financial power, however, Westminster has a longer history with this corruption – the EU did enforce us to clean up our water, beaches and air; here’s one document that shows what would have happened to some of the UK’s vulnerable species and its habitats:

    On climate change the UK has a course of action embedded within its own Climate Change Act and of course agreement to the latest COP, so to disengage fully on climate agreements is going to be more complex than just leaving the EU.

    Personally I am deeply saddened by the vote, the EU was originally conceived to work together for peace, some Ukippers think that a war mongering NATO will keep us just as safe!! Trying to combat the challenge of climate change as an island from our European neighbours is absurd. I was born in the north of the UK but spent almost 20 years in 2 different European countries, my life has been enriched this, it’s sad that a grey vote with little lifespan left has just made this type of cultural exchange much more difficult for younger people.

  5. gosh, didn’t know Jeremy Corbyn had such a nutjob as a brother
    It would probably have been better if Labour had campaigned for Leave, then they could have shaped the debate around what happened to Greece, the anti migrant policies of the EU, free trade agenda etc etc. Now the key will be in using the disarray in the Tories to go on the offensive for renewables, social justice, climate jobs, NHS and and and

  6. Although I voted remain, I recognise that there were good arguments on both sides of the debate. For me the clincher was the potential short to medium term economic impact of Brexit, which I just felt was too big a risk to take at a time when there are big question marks over the health of the global economy. Wait until the outlook is better and then reform the EU from within. The referendum result means we have gone for the short sharp shock approach, it will definitely be a shock but unfortunately it may not be so short.

    The immediate concerns I have right now are to do with the state of the two main political parties. Both Tories and Labour are divided and in seeming disarray, at an absolutely crucial time for the country. The conservatives will be effectively leaderless for at least a few months, and the Labour party currently seem unable to provide the kind of robust effective opposition we desperately need. I hope it all sorts itself out quickly.

  7. Also, I did not know Boris Johnson is a climate change denier. That is worrying given that he is favourite to be the next Prime Minister, and even if he doesn’t get that he will probably play a big part in the coming exit from the EU. With Michael Gove and his comment about people being “sick of experts”, Boris and his climate change denial, and Donald Trumps antics from across the pond, there’s a serious trend of anti intellectualism at the moment.

  8. The effects of the Brexit decision on UK climate policy seem clear: the right-wing morons like Farage and Johnson, into whose hands the great British idiocracy have delivered us, don’t give a flying f*ck about climate change, and frankly all UK government policy and implementation is going to be paralysed for the next 10 years anyway. It’ll probably only be a matter of time before all UK funding for climate-related issues will be redirected towards reopening the good old nostalgic British coal mines or something.

    I suppose the silver lining is that the economic nosedive the economy will now take, plus the mass emigration of people who can’t bear the prospect of living with a majority of gullible morons, bigots and xenophobes, means that the UK’s emissions of greenhouse gases will probably decline anyway.

  9. In one short comment you condemn over 17million British people as being ‘gullible morons, bigots and xenophobes’. Has it not occurred to you that being treated exactly like that by a bunch of unelected, elite bureaucrats is precisely why they voted the way they did?

  10. @Anonymous (#9) – I agree with you that Leaving’s comment is not particularly constructive. My view, as I wrote in the post above, is as follows:

    “Of course immigration and xenophobia also played a role. Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party fanned the flames. But I don’t believe that the 37% of the UK population that voted leave is racist.”

  11. @Anonymous – the reason they are gullible is that they have believed the utter tripe peddled by the likes of Nigel Farage that leads them to believe that every wrong in their lives is because of these nameless “unelected elite” bureaucrats – rather than, for example, reminding them that if they got up off their a*ses and voted in European elections they might well be a lot more accountable than they currently are.

    And frankly, anyone that believes the oldest, lowest political appeal in the world – “we’ll give you free stuff, and the nasty foreigners are to blame for everything bad” – is a gullible moron. (Interesting to note, though, how many of them are already regretting their gullibility…)

  12. One of the funny things about Farage is that he’s a Member of the European Parliament. He was in Brussels today, asking for a “grown up” discussion about the UK and the EU. Moments later he told the MEPs “Virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives.”

    Farage has contested parliamentary elections in the UK five times, without winning once.

  13. Farage has done very little as an MEP, his voting record is the worst apart from a paralysed Irish MEP: and his actual record:

    He also retains an MEP’a salary (I think about £76,000 per year) with allowances of £40,000 a year for a UK based office and daily expenses (approx. £230 per day is allowed). He has boasted about his own wealth from this day job!!

  14. There’s an article in the Huffington Post: “What Brexit means for climate change“. Here’s the Bottom Line:

    – In the short run, Brexit means, at the very least, delays and complications in the process towards the ratification of the Paris Accord.

    – The financial volatility caused by the referendum’s outcome could distract the worlds’ financial regulators and have a negative impact on current efforts to better regulate climate-related financial disclosures.

    – Looking ahead, the incoming Eurosceptic government in the UK is unlikely to make climate change its priority, depriving global climate negotiations from a leader and political engine towards more ambitious greenhouse gas cuts.

    – In a worst case scenario, a full-blown global economic crisis would set back investments in clean energy, cut budget for both mitigation and adaptation efforts, and fuel further discontent from the middle-class and the unemployed.

    – Over the long run, a possible “contagion” effect enabling populist victories in upcoming elections in the U.S., Spain, France or Germany over the next 12 months could further hamper the enactment of effective global climate policy.