The Brexit vote leaves everything up in the air, and most are not optimistic about how it will affect attitudes toward the environment and climate change.
Many fear the vote is part of a growing global wave of populist nationalism, dominated by Donald Trump-like figures who will undermine decades of work toward unified action on climate.
The UK is expected to move further to the right with people like Nigel Farage – who pushed for the referendum – and Boris Johnson in leadership positions. Farage wants to end regulations that reduce pollution from power plants, since he doesn’t have “a clue whether climate change is being driven by carbon-dioxide emissions.” Johnson, who could well be the next prime minister, believes humanity’s impact on the weather is “without foundation.”
So much for the UK’s leadership on climate? And its commitment to get off coal by 2025? Already, under the current conservative administration, the UK has lost its position as a renewable energy leader and is about to start rampant fracking against the wishes of the people who live there.
In a letter to the European Commission from the continent’s 10 largest environmental groups, they point to the benefits of EU environmental policies – cleaner air, water and beaches, thriving wildlife, safer chemicals, and renewable energy, as examples.
They challenge the EU to move beyond the austerity and pandering to corporations that is behind rising nationalism. “It has widened the gap between rich and poor, and eroded our ability to face global challenges of climate change, ecosystem collapse, and war.”
Impact on Climate Agreement
Donald Trump in the US could well be joined by right-wing leadership in the UK to take apart the Paris Climate Agreement. And without UK leadership, that could filter to the EU as a whole.
“The UK has generally argued for stronger action on emissions in 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,” says Bob Ward of Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.
The EU’s formal climate pledge of cutting emissions 40% by 2030 is based on joint action from all members.
Hopefully, Britain’s policy will be like Norway – which is not an EU member. Norway adopted EU’s climate pledge and intends to “fulfill the commitment through collective action.”
But the Paris Climate Agreement needs to be ratifed by countries now, not a couple of years from now when the UK finishes negotiations with the EU.
Luckily, Germany and France are determined to press forward and the momentum is already there to ratify the Agreement.
Expect Weaker Environmental Policies
When it comes to pollution, wildlife, agriculture and renewable energy, striving for less “red tape” will inevitably weaken environmental protection.
For example, with 400,000 premature deaths a year from air pollution, the EU set new limits in 2010, which many UK cities and towns have yet to comply with. Environmental groups successfully used those regulations to sue UK’s government, reports The Guardian.
Using EU laws, groups have also sued to force the UK to clean sewage-strewn beaches, “driven a revolution in recycling and waste,” and passed the first law to create a sustainable fishing industry. Even bans on pesticides responsible for collapsing pollinator populations could be reversed since the UK fought them in the first place.
“Make no mistake: The “Leave” vote was a rejection of globalization, at least as it’s currently structured. This was a revolt of working class Britons who have seen their postwar prosperity erode around them and their social contract eviscerated by the corporate and financial oligarchy,” says Richard Eskow of Campaign for America’s Future.
By rejecting regulations, they are furthering corporate dominance, however, and removing protections for nature, peoples’ health and worker rights that come with EU membership.
Unfortunately, the “Leave” argument won by “stirring up bigotry against immigrants, cloaked in flimsy arguments about excessive regulation. Legitimate economic grievances were channeled into nationalist hostility,” Eskow says.
“Leave” voters aren’t wrong to feel powerless. “Free” markets, privatization and powerful corporate interests dominate economies. We’re fighting in the US over this as they are fighting it in the UK.
And “all over the world there are Boris Johnsons and Nigel Farages poised to capitalize on the chaos,” Eskow says. The US has Trump, Greece has Golden Dawn, Germany has AfD, Scandinavia has the Sweden Democrat Party and the Danish People’s Party.
There’s also a growing counterforce in many countries, including the US, which is why people are fighting hard against corporate trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.