Brexit: implications for climate change commitments

Brexit: implications for climate change commitments

When the UK voted to leave the EU, climate change was far from the minds of both the electorate and politicians. Climate change had scarcely featured in the referendum campaign. Yet, the UK’s decision to exit has consequences for climate change policy in the UK and EU, as for almost every other area of policy.
 
There is still considerable uncertainty about how the UK’s exit from the EU will affect climate change policy
and its implementation. However, it is worth reflecting on what the implications might be. It may be two or more years before the details of the UK’s new relationship with the EU are fully known but during this time, the global climate change agreement will continue to evolve in a number of areas. Parties to the UNFCCC are expected to confirm their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), examine the options for making them more ambitious, and begin to consider longer-term commitments of climate finance. The EU is due to reform its emission trading system (ETS), revise policies on renewable energy and energy efficiency, and set 2030 targets for emissions outside the ETS. The urgency of deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to ensure the average global temperature rise is well below 2°C, will become even greater.

Key messages:

  • departure from the EU is unlikely to affect the UK or the EU’s international commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These are enshrined in law in the case of the UK, and in Council Conclusions for the EU. In addition, the UK’s departure will not affect existing commitments to support developing countries to address climate change
  • the UK will need to decide whether to implement the Paris Agreement jointly with the EU or as an individual party. The terms of the UK’s exit from the EU may determine this decision
  • if the UK acts as an individual party after departure from the EU, it will need to submit its own Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to the UNFCCC. The EU’s NDC will need to be revised, which may affect the individual contributions of the remaining EU member states
  • how the UK sets its carbon pricing, whether within or outside of the EU emissions trading system (ETS) will be integral to the UK’s energy policy in achieving ambitious emission reductions
  • prolonged delay by the EU and the UK in revising international climate change commitments may weaken their influence and leadership in multilateral climate change negotiations.
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