Since Article 50 was triggered and the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) officially commenced there has been significant political drama that has overshadowed the process. The Government has had little to say on green policies and the General Election did little to improve on that. There has been little publicity on the effect that Brexit will have Britain’s green business community.
The Prime Minister, Teresa May promised to get the right deal for every single person in this country. Negotiations are expected to be a two-year long intense dispute with Brussels over trade deals and economic arrangements and greatest likelihood is that sustainability issues will not be a priority leaving environmental and sustainability professionals somewhat frustrated.
It is vital that, during this period of uncertainty that the UK Government does not allow environmental issues to be left behind. Theoretically, there is no reason why EU environmental legislation should be removed from British legislation as it is already enshrined as such but uncertainty will surely reign until the 2019 deadline.
The UK officially signed the Paris Agreement last year through successful negotiations with the EU, and it is expected to reduce emissions as part of a burden-sharing commitment across Member States. With the Agreement ratified during the COP22 negotiations in Marrakesh, the UK has taken steps to introduce its own emissions scheme, the Carbon Price Floor, which all Member States are required to do. The Carbon Price Floor requires businesses using fossil fuels to generate electricity to pay additional rates on those fuels.
Whilst the government has acknowledged that there are issues on whether the UK bind itself into European negotiations of the Paris Agreement which includes a decision on whether the UK participates in the EU Emissions trading Scheme (EU ETS) and in the burden-sharing agreement, which sets binding annual emissions targets for EU Member States up to 2020. Current burden-sharing targets involve a 20% carbon reduction for the wealthiest Member States and ministers have confirmed that the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 was compatible with the Paris Agreement. Although the UK legally has a right to be an active participant in the negotiations of next generation and the reforms of the EU ETS, its departure from Europe will mean its influence on the next phase and the final carbon allocations will be diminished.
The recent approval of the Fifth Carbon Budget has put the UK on a path to meet the legally-binding carbon reduction targets laid out in the 2008 Act, by setting a 57% reduction goal between the period of 2028 and 2032. Only three European countries are on course to achieve the Paris Agreement targets with the UK in fifth position on its progress towards its goal.
Overall, Brexit is unlikely to change the framework of the Paris Agreement, but rather how the UK involves itself with it. A joint agreement on the effort sharing decision is currently being negotiated by EU member states, and is expected to be announced by the end of 2017.
The Brexit White Paper reiterated the commitment to ensure the Government becomes the first to leave the environment in a better state than it found it in with specific mentions of the future of farming and marine protections. That said, with around 75% of all UK environment law deriving from EU regulations, a third will need to be transposed into UK law. This will not affect requirements that have already been transposed or are required to be before 2019. Regardless of whether these stemmed from EU directives or not, they will remain enshrined in UK law unless repealed, which is highly unlikely given the government’s priorities during and after Brexit. Whilst the environment is not featured highly on the political agenda at present, it is clear that much is to be done if the UK is to lead on the Paris Agreement whether as part of the EU or not.