Is Brexit the birthday present the Climate Change Act could do without?

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Nick Turton, External Affairs Director, Energy Institute

The UK’s Climate Change Act is ten years old, but what does Brexit augur for it and its targets? The Energy Institute’s CCA at 10 ‘class of 2008’ – a virtual panel of energy influencers who held key positions around the time of the Act’s introduction – have been reflecting on this thorny topic.

The legal answer has the glass half full – “in a strict sense Brexit makes no difference because the CCA and its targets are entirely national” [former BBC Environment Correspondent, Richard Black]. Or, to put it another way, “the CCA has “made in Britain” stamped all over it” [CCC and IPCC member Prof Jim Skea].

In practice, although it’s possible “the transition is sufficiently locked in, that Brexit will not impact it” [former MP and Energy Minister Charles Hendry], there are red flags on the horizon for investment in low carbon tech. “Will manufacturers of low emission vehicles or wind turbine blades want to invest in the UK? Will consumers be willing to pay to import energy efficient technologies as sterling dips in value?” [Skea]. It certainly could have “a negative impact on the deployment of renewables” [Good Energy CEO Juliet Davenport].

Perhaps more worryingly, what will the divorce mean for climate change policy, once the UK is outside the EU tent? “The balance of views within the remaining EU27 might be different” [former National Grid CEO Steve Holliday], given the UK was always one of the strongest advocates of ambition within the bloc. Conversely, “if Brexit leads the UK to distance itself from the European consensus, then [UK] climate policy could come into question” [former Consumer Focus CEO Ed Mayo]. Freedom from the common EU regulatory frameworks, specifically designed to avoid a “race to the bottom”, could lead to the UK doing just that – a “bonfire of environmental regulations” [Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett].

However these unknowns pan out in the long term, there are still big immediate questions standing in the way of a ‘frictionless’ energy Brexit. Minimising the impact requires us to “stay very close to Europe” [former Shell UK Chair James Smith] including “participation in common arrangements for trading in electricity, gas and emission permits” [Holliday] and to “maintain our co-operation and dialogue with our European partners on climate change, despite Brexit” [former DECC Director General Simon Virley].

And, with the UK due to leave the EU on 29 March next year, it’s urgent – “business really needed answers a year ago, because uncertainty delays investment and makes it more expensive” [Black].

No pressure then.

Full contributions from the panel can be found on the CCA at 10 web page.

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