Midway through what’s set to be the warmest year in history, UK voters have elected to leave the world’s most progressive climate change alliance.
Most commentators agree that this vote poses considerable risks for the energy and climate agenda in the UK and Europe.
The EU’s record on addressing environmental issues is arguably one of its greatest achievements. It has led the world in legislation on a range of issues, which have helped tackle water and air pollution, protected endangered species, and imposed tough safeguards on the use of genetically modified crops and potentially dangerous chemicals.
The EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, which set a target of 20 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020, has also been credited with helping drive the rapid growth in the renewables industry over the last few years.
According to the Institute of European Environmental Policy report, the EU has ‘developed probably the most complete and influential body of environmental law and policy in the world’, agreeing a common approach to a wide range of environmental issues, which has raised environmental standards throughout Europe, and had a knock-on effect on the rest of the world.
The UK has historic electricity and gas links with Europe, and is deeply enmeshed with the continent’s low-carbon regulations and policies, such as the regional emissions trading scheme. Carbon markets, renewable energy and the Paris climate agreement did not figure in the Referendum debate, but they are likely to be priority areas for the UK and EU for the rest of this decade. Many environmental campaigners are worried by the Referendum result.
The key question now is: Will a new Prime Minister maintain commitment to green agenda?
The UK exit from the EU will have an impact on climate issues as historically, the UK has adopted a European leadership role with France and Germany on arguing for tougher emission cuts, rolling out a regional carbon market and formulating energy policy. London is a centre for global green finance and services, UK hi-tech companies are pioneering smart, energy efficient devices, and electric vehicles are a major part of the car industry’s long-term strategy.
Without the UK’s influence, a raising of GHG emission targets and reduction in energy derived from coal, especially in Eastern Europe, are under threat.
‘While not all Eurosceptics are climate sceptics, few climate sceptics are not also Eurosceptic,’ said London-based think tank E3G (Third Generation Environmentalism). They suggest that many of Brexit’s fiercest and most influential supporters eye a future where the UK produces its own energy from domestic resources, without relying on European interconnectors for power.
Government plans to phase out coal by 2025 are now being questioned by some commentators, given the likelihood of a new administration in October with a weaker green agenda.
However, it is unlikely that British lawmakers will remove the country’s climate policies as only six MPs voted against the 2008 Climate Change Act when it was introduced. With the prospect of an economic slump looming as a result of the referendum, climate and environment regulations could be in the firing line in the name of ‘competitiveness’.
Of the leadership contenders, Theresa May, Andrea Leadsom, and Stephen Crabb generally voted against measures to prevent climate change, and Michael Gove stands accused of trying to wipe climate change off the national curriculum. Liam Fox has largely steered clear of global warming.
Historically, the UK has been one of the more generous international donors, meeting a target to deliver 0.7% of national income as Overseas Development Aid (ODA). It is worrying that many Brexit supporters object to the ring-fencing of ODA.
How will the main contenders for Prime Minister respond to the climate change issues?
Can we trust Theresa May? She generally voted for lower taxes on fuel for motor vehicles; consistently voted for selling England’s state owned forests; has never voted on financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation; generally voted against greater regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract shale gas.
Can we trust Michael Gove? Like others he feels the EU environmental controls have been too strict. He claimed that his father’s fish merchant business in Aberdeen had collapsed because of rules set in Brussels. To lower domestic bills he recently suggested cutting VAT on domestic fuel.
Can we trust the outside candidate, Stephen Crabb? Like Theresa May, he has voted against measures to prevent climate change: consistently voted for selling England’s state owned forests; generally voted against financial incentives for low-carbon emission electricity generation methods; and voted a mixture of for and against greater regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract shale gas.
While all the positioning and posturing in the leadership battles for both of the main political parties, we must ensure that the government does not take its ‘eye off the ball’ with regard to the actions needed to address climate change.
As Christians in a democratic country, our role is to write to our MPs with our views, and hold them to account for the decisions that they take. For with them, we are each accountable before God. God who is creator, continually caring for creation, and working for the redemption of creation. In this we, who are created in the image of God, have our part to play in caring for creation and expressing God’s redemptive love for the world and its environment in our lives.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article which was prepared before Boris Johnson withdrew from the race appears on the Baptist Times website
John Weaver was born and brought up in Cardiff. After taking degrees in Geology at Swansea, he taught at the University of Derby. John trained for Baptist ministry in Oxford and was then pastor of Highfield Baptist Church from 1981-1991. From 1992-2001 he taught theology at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and from 2001-2012 served as Principal of South Wales Baptist College. He is a former President of the Baptist Union, and is the Chair of JRI. His main areas of research are: relating faith to life and work; theological reflection; adult education; and the dialogue between science and faith.
The ‘Flooding2015’ image is used under license from Shutterstock.com (Copyright: nothallertonman)