by Judith Curry
Some speculations on Brexit and climate change.
Did climate change cause Brexit?
Ha ha. Well, the politics of climate change policies seems to have influenced the voters. there seems to be a substantial confluence of British climate change skeptics and people that voted ‘yes’ for Brexit. Climate policies are one of the topics of concern regarding EU overreach. It turns out that a large percentage of the British population are skeptical of human caused climate change. From Brexit Is Also A Repudiation Of EU Global Warming Mandates:
Conservative pollster Lord Michael Ashcroft surveyed 12,369 Brits voting in Thursday’s referendum and found 69 percent of those who voted to leave the EU saw the “green movement” as a “force for ill.”
Funny that AGW skepticism was sold as an American aberration. It seems to be alive and well in Britain and elsewhere in Europe.
Will Brexit influence the Paris Climate Change Agreement?
There are numerous dimensions to the potential impacts of Brexit on the Paris Agreement:
More importantly, for the rest of the world, the Leave campaign’s victory provides a fillip globally for groups opposed to climate action, and if it causes delays to the Paris accord coming into effect, it could provide an opening for aspiring right-wing leaders – including Donald Trump – to try to unpick the pact.
The Brexit vote will be used as a rallying cry for an agenda that frequently includes climate scepticism among its tenets, alongside curbs to immigration and to government regulation.
Many climate sceptics around the world will have been encouraged by the Brexit vote, as there is so much overlap between the two camps, and environmental and carbon goals under the EU were a key target of the Leave campaigners.
• Politico: 5 ways Brexit will transform energy and climate
One oft-voiced concern is that the departure of Britain — which has been a climate leader within the bloc — could weaken the E.U.’s climate ambitions, on top of the general chaos expected to ensue as Brexit now unfolds (which will surely distract all parties from climate policy).
“The UK has generally argued for stronger action on emissions within the EU, so its absence will make it more difficult to counter the arguments of those Member States, such as Poland, which want slower and weaker cuts in emissions,” said Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
“We don’t know how long the exit process is going to take, and secondly, whether that would end up with the UK still in the single market, like Norway, and therefore still within the burden sharing agreement, or completely outside the EU as a separate state, and therefore, would submit its own [climate pledge],” Jordan said. “And in fact, it could take years until that’s clear.”
“UK will not now take part in the sharing out of the EU 2030 target contained in the EU [pledge], and Brexit will likely make it more difficult for the EU to achieve that target as UK has been cutting its emissions by more than the EU average,” Ward said by email.
In the short term, it could benefit global efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions growth, former UK climate chief Chris Huhne told Climate Home. That’s because the market volatility set loose by Brexit is likely to lead to a UK recession, and potentially a global slowdown. In the 2008-09 economic crisis emissions fell 1.4%.
Longer term the EU will lose its second-largest economy and a key driver of the region’s low carbon policymaking, the founding member of the 13-strong Green Growth Group of EU nations. Despite a vocal quorum of climate sceptics the UK has consistently argued for Europe to target 50% greenhouse gas emission cuts by 2030, as opposed to the current 40%.
Historically, the UK has adopted a European leadership role with France and Germany on arguing for tougher emission cuts, rolling out a regional carbon market and formulating energy policy.
London is a centre for global green finance and services, UK hi-tech companies are pioneering smart, energy efficient devices, electric vehicles are a major part of the car industry’s long-term strategy.
For one, don’t expect the EU to ratchet up its 40% cuts target with the UK no longer a player.
Secondly, expect eastern states like Poland to play merry hell over the effort sharing deal with a Brussels leadership they are already in conflict with.
How will Brexit change the British response to climate change?
Britain has been a strong proponent in the EU for aggressive emissions reductions. There has been a positive feedback effect in the context of the EU, whereby Britain influenced the EU and the EU reinforced the UK commitment politically within the UK. There seems to be a large segment of the UK population that does not support drastic emissions reductions, and if the new PM (possibly Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage) does not support these policies, then we might see a change. But it may be that Britain’s overall response to climate change may not change.
However, in deciding how to accomplish emissions reductions, Britain will no longer be constrained by EU preferences. Dare we hope that nonsensical policies such as importing wood chips from the U.S. to be burned at Drax may be dropped in favor of nuclear power?
Here are some articles that provide insights:
From the ‘red-tape’ slashing desires of the Brexiters to the judgment of green professionals, all indications are for weaker environmental protections
After a year of inertia and increasingly spooked investors, Whitehall is expected to release a new energy plan by the end of the year.
A damning report from consultants at EY in May noted the government’s track record for “policy U-turns”, downgrading the UK to 13 out of the top 40 markets for renewables.
Plans for new energy projects would fall rapidly from 2017 said the analysis, with the potential for an energy deficit through the 2020s if wind, solar and nuclear projects did not pick up.
Given the long lead-times on projects, key energy companies may yet look elsewhere, fearful of the candidates who could replace Cameron in Number 10.
That, UK energy secretary Amber Rudd warned, could lead to a £500m “electric shock” in the 2020s as a result of low investor confidence.
Others like justice secretary Michael Gove say Brexit could lead to lower bills: “One of the ways in which we can help those most in need is by cutting VAT on domestic fuel,” he said in May.
• Business Insider: Brexit could have terrible consequences for the environment
Pro-Brexit farming minister George Eustice told The Guardian in May that the EU’s environmental restrictions were “spirit-crushing”. Yet he also said the government could take some of $18.7 billion USD (May 2016 exchange rate) that Britain won’t need to pay the EU anymore, then earmark that money toward new and more innovative green initiatives.
But Britain’s environmental minister, Rory Stewart, strongly disagreed with this optimism, telling The Guardian:
“It is European action that put a stop to the devastating impact on our forests of acid rain, and we are now tackling air quality by cutting harmful emissions. Through the EU we have improved more than 9,000 miles of rivers since 2010 and our water environment is in the healthiest state for 25 years.”
The UK government has openly said that EU legislation was the main force behind its own efforts to combat air pollution, which has been tied to the premature deaths of an estimated 40,000 Britons each year.
One bright spot is that EU farming policies, which led to widespread growth of industrial agriculture, are actually more destructive than the ones Britain may implement on its own.
UK has been significantly more open to nuclear energy than most traditional EU states and that the EU has issued a number of mandates for renewable energy production that specifically exclude nuclear.
Many opinion formers in the UK are influenced by the anti-nuclear philosophy and politics of Germany and Austria that are backed by EU-wide regulations.
But plenty of UK voters object to being muzzled in this way — and nuclear is only one example.
The good news is that the UK will now be free to use its judgement on nuclear energy and work with others worldwide to ensure the future.
How will Brexit impact scientists and climate change science?
So, will anything actually change for climate science in Britain? Apart from the issues of funding, which depend on the state of the economy and national priorities, the biggest issue is the flow of scientific research talent to and from Britain.
Here are some assessments on this issue:
- National Geographic: Why Brexit Freaks Out So Many Scientists.
- Nature: Researchers reeling as UK votes to leave EU
- Science: Researchers deplore U.K. decision to leave the European Union
- Scientific American: “Brexit” Could Do Real Damage to U.K. Science
The National Geographic article specifically calls out climate science:
The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union could disrupt research as well as commitments to fighting climate change.
“It’s depressing, but the uncertainty doesn’t help,” says Philip Jones, research director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in Norwich, England. “I just hope that science doesn’t get forgotten in all of this.”
“My main concern in the big picture is potential damage to the U.K.’s reputation as a destination for top-flight researchers,” says Myles Allen of the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute. “Researchers put a lot of emphasis on the ability to recruit and ability to travel, and if these changes affect our ability to recruit the best and brightest of the world’s academics, then we’re in trouble.”
From the Scientific American article:
But potentially the biggest impact of Brexit on research is likely to be how it affects the flow of talent to and from the U.K. The Vote Leave campaign focused primarily on fears about immigration, so this could signal a potentially very damaging reduction in the number of researchers from other countries who choose to study and work in the U.K.
When Brexit is complete, citizens of the other 27 member states are unlikely to have the automatic right to work and live in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is possible that the U.K. will introduce immigration policies that would allow qualified researchers to enter. However, the negative rhetoric around immigration may make the U.K. seem an unwelcoming and unattractive place for overseas researchers to pursue their work, even if the rules do allow it.
And if the U.K. discovers that it is difficult to attract high-quality researchers from abroad, it will also find it more difficult to retain its best home-grown minds. Successful modern science is based on the principles of openness and collaboration that are the antithesis of the “Little England” attitude of many campaigners who promoted Brexit.
In addition, many international businesses and companies that carry out research and development are based in the U.K. because it helps to access the European Economic Area. If, as seems likely, the U.K. leaves the EEA as well as the E.U., many companies may choose to relocate their operations to another member state.
Well Brexit is quite astonishing really in terms of the democratic process. It is exhilarating, really, regardless of which side you are on. A tweet from Nasser Saidi reminds us that:
Contrast #Brexit voting on existential, constitutional matters whereas in #Lebanon & rest of Arab countries we are not even allowed to vote
Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff has an interesting article on the democracy angle, I was particularly struck by this quote:
The current… standard for breaking up a country is… less demanding than a vote for lowering the drinking age.
Whether Brexit turns out to be good or bad (and for exactly what and for whom), within Britain and the EU, remains to be seen. It will surely shake up Brussels and the UNFCCC regarding climate change, which is a good thing.
With regards to climate science, scientists from elite institutions are overwhelmingly against Brexit, and the concerns that have been raised are important ones. But the political rise of skepticism about AGW in Europe could be long-term advantageous to getting climate science out of its current myopic focus on human-caused climate change.
The other demographic that was adamantly against Brexit was younger voters, who highly value the seamless ability to live and work in any of the 27 countries of the EU. Surely this will influence the decisions of many students as to whether to attend a British University and the decisions of many young faculty members as to whether to seek employment at British Universities. The potential dynamics for a ‘brain drain’ are there; it will be a challenge to Britain to ensure that such a drain does not materialize.
The economic impacts of Brexit are the big wild card, of particular relevance here are the political viability of the environmental agenda and support for science.
And finally, I can’t resist adding the cartoon on the cover of the New Yorker: