Brexit: how a no deal exit from the EU could impact climate change

9 May 2019

A no deal exit from the European Union (EU) doesn’t just risk the UK’s economic and political stability – it comes with huge risks to the environment too. Here’s how a hard Brexit could impact climate change.

Key risks of a no deal Brexit

  • Increase in CO2 emissions
  • Higher transport emissions
  • Increase in air pollution
  • Cuts to renewable energy generation
  • More sewage pumped into our oceans
  • Less protection for wildlife
  • Poor animal welfare
  • Water pollution

Carbon emissions

How things stand:

The UK is currently bound by climate change targets set out in the Paris Agreement. This requires carbon emissions to be reduced, so that global temperature won’t increase by more than 1.5°C by 2020.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) can impose multi-million Euro fines on the UK for failing to tackle air pollution. The UK was taken to court in 2018 as a result of illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air, which mainly come from transport emissions like diesel exhaust fumes.

The risks of a no deal Brexit:

Polluting our atmosphere with greenhouse gasses is a key contributor to climate change, and a withdrawal from the EU risks an even higher increase to UK air pollution.

Illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in our cities is linked to an increase in lung diseases, like asthma, particularly in children and the elderly.

If Brexit goes ahead, our government would no longer be accountable to the ECJ – leaving us vulnerable to inadequate plans to combat increasing levels of air pollution.

Renewable energy

How things stand:

The EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) requires all EU member states to make at least 32% of their energy green by 2030. The RED has been instrumental in securing government backing for investments in renewables, pushing the UK to meet carbon emission targets.

Offshore wind currently accounts for just 7% of Britain’s energy – but a new government deal hopes to increase this to 30% by 2030. That said, the government still aren’t planning to increase funding or support for onshore wind generation any time soon.

The risks of a no deal Brexit:

According to Eurostat, the UK is already at the bottom of the EU league table for renewable energy consumption targets. We’re yet to reach our 2020 target, despite countries like Sweden, Finland and Denmark already surpassing far higher green energy goals.

Pulling out of the EU with no deal poses a real threat to the future of green energy in the UK. While the rest of Europe charge ahead in their capacity for renewable energy generation, there’ll be nothing holding the UK government to account – leaving them free to pursue fracking and block the growth of onshore green energy production.

Threat to wildlife

How things stand:

In 2018 the EU voted to ban neonictinoids, a form of pesticides which are especially harmful to bees. You can find out more about neonictinoids and their impact on bees and other insects here.

96% of the UK’s coastal waters are safe to swim in, thanks to the EU 1976 Bathing Water Directive. But the UK government has worked hard to find loopholes in the legislation, pumping untreated sewage into our oceans as recently as 1998. That’s longer than any other EU country.

The EU has also proposed a ban on all single use plastic by 2021, along with a widespread ban on microplastics, in a bid to cut plastic pollution in our oceans. The UK introduced a far less comprehensive ban on microbeads in 2018, which only covered pollution from things like face wash and toothpaste.

The risks of a no deal Brexit:

A no deal Brexit risks losing the legislation that protects UK wildlife – which could mean a significant drop in British biodiversity, loss of habitat, an increase in the use of pesticides, and a spike in plastic pollution.

If the UK government hasn’t taken the safety of our oceans seriously under EU law, this will only get worse with a no deal Brexit. And without the legal pressure to maintain the standard of our beaches, there’s nothing to stop mass dumping of sewage and other chemicals into our oceans.

In 2018, over 1,300 sewage pollution events occurred at more than 300 British beaches. Sewage spills on our beaches are a huge threat to all sea life. And if sewage makes its way into our rivers and waterways, there’s a risk to fish and other fresh water wildlife.

Our government will be forced to implement a ban on single use plastics if the EU law comes into effect before Brexit. But the EU legislation has already hit a number of procedural blocks, so there’s every chance the UK won’t be subject to the ban.

Food production

How things stand:

The production of meat and dairy is responsible for 60% of farming’s greenhouse gas emissions. Over 70% of the UK countryside is used for farming, which has already caused widespread loss of habitat to British wildlife.

Current EU legislation bans the use of certain pesticides in crop farming and places strict criteria on animal welfare. And the EU has announced plans to drastically cut food waste.

The risks of a no deal Brexit:

The UK government is considering trade negotiations with the US if we leave the EU, which means our food standards could be lowered to accept chlorinated chicken.

The World Resources Institute says the US is the third largest contributor to carbon emissions from agriculture. Intensive farming, genetic modification of crops, and the use of chemical pesticides are commonplace in the US.

There’s also the possibility that our government could back-pedal on animal welfare standards, and poor environmental farming practice.

For more information about climate change and reactions to environmental policy, follow our founder Dale Vince on Facebook.

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