What does the vote by Britons to leave the European Union mean for the Paris Climate Treaty, for green energy subsidies and mandates, and for the global warming debate? The UK and global commentariat have been quick to offer some answers. The most unambiguous reaction from the global warming alarmists that I have seen was a one-word tweet from Rachel Kyte, CEO of UN Sustainable Energy for All and former World Bank special envoy for climate change: “Weep.”
Paris will need to be “re-calibrated” according to Christiana Figueres, the outgoing executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Figueres, by the way, just announced that she is a candidate for UN secretary-general.
The Paris Treaty includes national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EU made an overall commitment that has yet to be divvied up between its 28 member states. The United Kingdom’s departure is likely to make it much more difficult to reach a burden-sharing agreement. Britain is the EU’s second largest emitter and has already passed legislation to cut emissions that goes far beyond the EU’s commitment under Paris. Thus, Britain was in line to undertake larger cuts than its “fair” share.
Moreover, Britain has been a leader in the EU on pushing aggressive climate action. Alden Meyer, policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said before the vote, “The UK has been a real leader within the European Union on climate issues for a long time. If there was a vote to leave and that resulted in them not being able to be part of the EU policymaking process on climate, I think that would be a negative overall.”
It is unlikely that the British government will want to reduce or walk back the emissions cuts that have already been legislated, at least in the near future. On the other hand, there is a strong correlation between supporting Brexit and being climate realists among Conservative Party MPs.
Lord Deben (John Selwyn Gummer), chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, noticed this in a speech at the beginning of the Brexit debate in March: “I note that most climate change deniers are believers in our leaving the European Union, and most of those who want to leave the EU are not prepared to accept what the real demands that climate change places upon you [are].” Many cabinet members in the new government are thus likely to be drawn from parliamentary supporters of Leave, and a significant number of the Leavers are skeptical of global warming alarmism and of the anti-energy policies that are hurting the UK economy.
The director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, was quoted on this point in a roundup of greens’ reactions to Brexit: “There is a very real fear that Cameron’s successor will come from the school that supports a bonfire of anti-pollution protections. The climate change-denying wing of the Conservative Party will be strengthened by this vote for Brexit.”
The same article on Edie.net commented that Brexit “has created a sense of uncertainty that swept across sustainability professionals.” I think sustainability professionals include people who run renewable energy companies, which are sustained by government subsidies and mandates. The article goes on to note that “the green business sector has signified its intentions to work with the Government to push the environmental agenda,” even though people in the green business sector appear to have voted overwhelmingly against Brexit.