With a number of opinion polls suggesting the UK will vote to leave EU, our 9th May Crowd Forum looked at the likely impact on environmental policy. We explored the exit scenarios and debated whether we’re likely to result in better environmental policy. It was a chance to learn, and record your views through the final vote.
Too much of the referendum debate so far has been based on sound bites and emotion. We had a chance to focus on the environmental line of the EU equation and have an intelligent conversation with some of the leading minds from both sides. We hoped we could do something meaningful and important.
We began with a review of the current process and the merits of the different exit scenarios from the leading mind in this field, David Baldock.
The case for remaining in the EU was made by Caroline Lucas MP, and Professor Paul Ekins. We expected them to argue that much of the UK’s best environmental policy has come from the EU, and that Brexit would undermine our commitment to the Paris Agreement.
The case for leaving will be made by Michael Liebreich and Lord Callanan. They argued that EU policy making is cumbersome and compromised, and that UK environmental strategy would be more effective if it is based on our circumstances.
Each speaker had 5 minutes to present their views before a panel discussion moderated by Axel Threlfall. The conversation continued at the roundtables before the audience was asked to choose their preferred option – leave, remain or unsure.
The final results were: Remain 86%, leave 9%, not sure 5%.
Would the UK have better environmental policy outside the EU? How does the promise of independence, and our experience of home grown environmental policy, stack up against the compromise inherent in a 27-member block? We continue the panel conversation, weighing up the arguments ahead of the final vote. We'll be running several of these tables at the event.
- It was agreed by all parties that the UK would not have a better environmental policy outside the EU. Although, the process by which the EU implements environmental law/policy is slow and bureaucratic; it is a ‘well-oiled machine’ and it works. The EU offers permanence and consistency.
- It was agreed that in the field of environmental policy, the EU has had a positive effect on our environment and in driving improvements in home grown policy.
- The UK has been required to adhere to a host of policies with strict legally binding environmental targets through membership of the EU, resulting in fines if the targets are not met. If the UK were to exit the
EU, this progress would be lost in the absence of external pressures/auditing applied by the EU (unless the UK is able to self-police itself).
- If the UK exits but remains in the EEA, the UK would still be subject to a plethora of EU laws, with little influence over their content.
- It was suggested that a total withdrawal from the EU would result in a wider degradation of environmental policy which would cause significant environmental impacts/damage to the UK. Is it in our interest to deregulate? Would environmental policy be as stringent outside the EU? Would the current environmental agenda be undermined?
- If the UK were to exit the EU, significant changes to UK environmental policy could be implemented every 4 years in line with the general elections (i.e. the policies would be more heavily influenced by the elected party). The EU offers a structure to which the UK Government (whichever party is elected) must adhere to regardless of personal preferences, generally for the greater good.
- It was generally agreed that ‘bigger is better’ in terms of environmental control. Although, a number of participates raised issues relating to the local interpretation of EU legislation/laws leading to over complication in some instances e.g. the build environmental and building design. The UK governments ‘red tape challenge’ was discussed in relation to this point.
- Should we also be considering the effect of Brexit on other members of the EU. How would a UK exit affect other members? Surely the EU would be worse off without the UK given that the UK is often viewed as a key driver of environmental change/improvement within the EU.
- It was generally agreed that innovative ideas are needed to improve the environment and drive changes to environmental policy. Would the UK be more innovative outside the EU? If the UK exits the EU, would this drive innovation? Or, should innovative ideas be encouraged regardless of the UK’s membership status?
- It was suggested that if the UK does exit the EU, it may be more appropriate to produce a business case for UK environmental policy and legislation.
- The key take home points were that the EU provides consistency, it was considered that environmental policy would not be as stringent if the UK were to exit the EU and overall, it would be more beneficial for the UK (and the EU) to vote to remaining in the EU. If the UK remains in the EU, they will remain part of a larger market place with the ability to influence its norms and rules, driving environmental change across member states. The EU also provides clear and enforceable environmental emissions limits/targets.
- Examples of pieces of legislation that members of the round table had been working with recently included environmental permitting, Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), regulations on fan power (air conditioning), ESOS, produced water, Section 60/Section 61 and the Water Framework Directive.
- Examples of important areas of UK environmental policy driven by the EU include habitats, birds and bathing water.
- Examples of issues that participants have with current EU policy/legislation included recycling of produced water (cannot be re-used due to the Water Framework Directive), issues with the recycling of end of use batteries, soils as waste products and material movements, packaging regulations, Climate Change Act, various regulations associated with the built environment etc.
Insights from the panel debate
There was a broad agreement that the Leave campaign did not address what will happen after the UK leaves the EU – both on the panel and in the public debate more generally. Too often, the Leave campaign relies on emotional appeal basing its arguments on various examples of the dysfunctional policies in the EU, failing to highlight how environmental policies in particular could become more stringent after Brexit. For instance, the future of energy interconnectors between the UK and other EU States has not been discussed and it is unclear what would happen with them. Finally, several participants around the table suggested that the EU provides a credible commitment mechanism to Member States, among which the UK, in order to adopt and implement policies that would be more difficult to advocate in a national debate.
Innovation vs. EU
Most participants did not identify a tension between remaining in the EU and a threat to innovation. The UK is free to innovate and even trade with other nations under favourable terms while being part of the EU. Interestingly, much of the debate over the state of innovation is difficult to predict given the high rate of change and substitution of old technologies. Granted, some technologies require subsidies to take off (e.g. solar energy) but innovation unravels as the opportunity is realised. As a result, whether in or out, innovation rates may not be affected in significant ways.
Areas without a price tag
Both camps have tried to appeal to some quantifiable impact of either decision, such as benefits from trade with the EU on the one hand or the rate of immigration on the other. However, certain aspects are difficult to price – such as clean air or healthy sea ecosystems. It is difficult to quantify their value but arguably the EU has had and will continue to have positive impact on the way we manage these common resources.
Observations and questions
• It’s an ideological question – it depends on if you believe in people working together and the ability of a super-state to work in collaboration
o A lot of people make their decisions based on weighing up the pounds in each column and figuring where they are better off
• Trump is popular not because of his policies (which contradict himself) but because people believe in his principles
• Younger people have grown up with community of being in the EU
• Can you care about sustainability and vote for leaving?
• How much would it cost us to be in or out?
• Will be economically or environmentally better off? On what basis should we leave?
• Do you put yourself first or humanity, who will be better off – do you vote for Britain or for the World – what would happen to Europe would it collapse?
Obstacles to making a decision
• So far there in the general media there has been a lack of an intelligent debate with straight facts
• The environmental perspective that has been left out of the media
• A lot of scare tactics about in or out – don’t really know what the true cost is either way
• There are three intersecting themes which will determine politicians behavior: principles, policies and politics; however the reality is they need to get re-elected so these can slide
Red Flags (warnings)
• People tend to undervalue what they already have and over value what they could get
• Premise of out campaign is that the UK can make all of its own decisions if it voted leave and but cant make its own decisions in the EU, which is not true
• Either way the UK will carry on making mistakes in or out
• We don’t have good democracy – we have a party that most people did not vote for
• Being outside the EU is a complete unknown
• Chances of UK breaking up are increased
• There is an opinion that if the UK leaves Europe it will still have strong ties due to the commonwealth – that isn’t/may not be the case anymore
• Our place in the world may well be dictated by how well we can trade with China
• Not able to change EU legislation if UK leaves – the public sector has been cut and the UK will have limited resources to do it so it will stay the same, which is also because it is too ingrained
• Cost us a lot of money and time to figure it out – not going to give money to DEFRA
• EU is a significant employer - all those people will migrate because their skills will be required in and valued by the EU
• The UK is moving more towards services rather than tech and innovation so we will be limited in our exports
• Our place in the world is how well we can trade with china
• Younger generation more change acceptant but less likely to vote
In campaign is stronger
• Better staying because in because it will be a disaster is trying to exit
• The future is coming from the EU area
• EU isn’t stopping us from innovating – and provides us a market to sell to
• The UK is still doing capable of doing things whilst in Europe with separate UK regulation in place
• Vote with your principle even if you don’t agree with some individual policies
• The UK has done a lot on its own eg: funding oil and gas and steel, Thames relief, implementing safety improvement features in e.g. more efficient, legislation and regulation
• Everything is produced locally (Coca – cola) – not being able to trans ship would massively impact infrastructure and supply chain and distribution – currently benefit from common logistic networks – and scope 2 emissions allow the purchase of renewable energy more efficiently, so being out of Europe doesn’t make sense.
• 5 year terms mean that politicians tend to concentrate on shorter term changes rather than long term. Meaning environmental arguments are often overlooked.
• The short-termism of politics can lead to instability and what could appear to be the progressive work of one government could quickly be undone by the next.
• Arguably, the staying within in the EU can aid maintaining some form of stability. Although some arguments suggest the EU as it stands currently is not one which we voted in as with domestic governments.
• Policy should end in the output we would like but often domestic political movements are headline grabbing and lack the substance to last.
• Businesses have largely avoided making open statements about where they stand in what has become a very emotional debate.
• But leaving the EU contains an inherent risk for many businesses compared with their currently stable environment.
• Ironically, one argument for leaving focuses on the innovation of the British, but much of our research is funded by the EU and Europe and many scientists are fighting for us to stay.
• British research tends to focus on less holistic issues.
Trusting the Brits to make the right choice
• Many sentiments seem to reflect a lack of trust in the British population to make the right choice for our environment. There is a pessimism that seems to be answered by staying within the EU.
• …but is this just a manipulative argument using fear to undermine the stay campaign?
• Collaboration is difficult and takes time but sticks. The issues we face are cross-border issues.
• Running an international Coalition from only the UK (not being part of the EU) would be nearly impossible.
• In the whole of the Brexit debate, environmental issues often feel like “tag-on” issues in the face of trade debates.
• Ultimately people will vote with their instinct and gut feel – often these debates and argument fail to convince people to change their mind as a result.
- In the case of a Brexit there are various issues that need to work out.
- Discussions can become emotional and not necessarily environmental
- People are resistant to change, but they could be open to other arrangements.
- Disintegration from the EU will be very difficult since it took 40 years for integration to happen.
- The environment will be low in the agenda in the case of a Brexit. It is highly likely that the standards will be lowered in order to drive growth and to be internationally competitiveness.
- The current state of Britain in the EU is not perfect but it creates some source of stability.
- The EU is a fundamental environmental floor. A flaw of the EU is that is difficult to carry out actions in the short term. There is a lot of bureaucracy. Nonetheless there is no polarisation like there is in Britain.
- Neither of the leaving speakers were convincing to some on the people in the roundtable. No convincing arguments for the exit.
Red Flags (Warnings)
- In the case of Brexit, it is unlike for Britain to have a strong environmental scene
- Unlike to have a strong environmental scene. Britain does not have the society to do that. There is no trust to the British politicians or society.
- They are not visionary enough for green issues to have intertemporal value.
- There is no evidence in this government that the trend in developing regulations such as the Climate Act this is going to continue
- Britain has been reluctant to partner in many deals.
- Britain has not been a good EU citizen. There is worry about resolving internal issues and country specific issues though the EU rather than approaching issues raised for the general benefit of the EU.
- In many ways Britain has been the lead of financial futures, entrepreneurship, mitigation, environmental goods and services, the problem is that we do not see what is happening with other benefits that come from environmental regulations and legislations such as the prevention of health issues and other societal benefits.
- Being in the EU with strong environmental legislation and reiteration of regulation creates business. Regulations drive technological innovation and advancement.
- If Britain remains in the EU then there is the opportunity to push harder and improve the benefits that can be achieved through different deals.
- There is nothing stopping the UK from approaching new markets for trading such as China even if it is part of the EU.
- Britain is failing to implement existing legislation. However, the Climate Act was developed in relatively fast. Adding to this Britain was a leader during the COP21.
- Countries outside the EU such as the US do not have a strong environmental policy.
- With the increase in population the energy consumption in many EU countries is lower or stable and smart regulations like this cannot be set outside the EU.
We look at how business can better work with policy makers, primarily through the lens of natural capital policy. Is a new way evolving, where leading businesses work together in independent forums to develop standards, and then lobby policy makers for minimum standards? De we even need policy? What does this mean for Brexit?
We look at how business can better work with policy makers, primarily through the lens of natural capital policy. Is a new way evolving, where leading businesses work together in independent forums to develop standards, and then lobby policy makers for minimum standards? Do we even need policy? What does this mean for Brexit?
· Do we believe business will have a greater impact taking us where we need to be and therefore it should lead policy rather than respond to policy? Arguably, corporate leadership and innovation indirectly influences policy and policy’s specific role is to force laggards to catch up. This is because businesses can create ideas of how to do things much quicker than governments. For example the take up of BREAM-rated green buildings has been huge but it has never become a mandatory regulation. Another example is an energy company, not big 6, that has developed a green energy programme to set itself apart from other businesses and to engage and raise awareness with customers
· On the other hand, the tension is that business tends to oppose policy because of the costs associated with changes. For example, some of the companies currently trialling the Natural Capital Protocol (NCP) may be driven by competitive advantage considerations but the majority of incentive comes from policy which may force them to internalise externalities. Therefore policy is needed to set the right environment. As another example, sustainability reporting is voluntary and is a mess, lacking homogeneity, which comes with the adoption of standards.
· Policy has a very difficult role: it should regulate behind innovation but also enable regulation and pick up its pieces. The problem comes when government comes with set of objectives and imposes regulation without understanding the business context (and vice versa when business lobby). The best approach is collaborative: the ministry states their objectives but the means are left to the business to reach the objectives, effectively instituting laws and regulations that enable profitability while achieving goals and objectives.
· The flow of influence goes both ways. What is important is to be transparent and clear what you stand behind and what you stand for. Most lobbying stands behind scenes with private lobbying being a big problem. Influence maps (http://influencemap.org/page/About-Us) is a UK-based non-profit whose remit is to map, analyze and score the extent to which corporations are influencing climate change policy.
· Specific example: the Natural Capital Coalition (http://www.naturalcapitalcoalition.org/) is developing a set of standards for measuring and reporting on your natural capital impacts and dependencies, with a view to coming up with a regulatory standard in the future. Since corporates have gone into this space, we’ve also seen an uptake in natural capital accounting at a sovereign level. The approach has proved to be a powerful way to get issues on agenda because of its rhetorical usefulness and political convenience (it fits with neo liberal view of world).
· So what does this mean for Brexit: we’re not complying with clean water and air regulation now, why would we think it’ll be better on the outside? There is no answer what will happen if Brexit happens. There is an additional risk that a Brexit will just divest interest and commitment to sustainability and other topics: “Will sustainability be our number 1 priority in the context of 3 decades of trade negotiations?”
Questions to consider:
· What evidence and technical advice can my organisation provide on specific environmental proposals and policies?
· How can my organisation encourage policy makers to act in the public interest without imposing disproportionate measures that will have a detrimental effect on my organisation’s ability to facilitate economic growth?
· How can my organisation better engage with politicians at the point when they start to think about their manifestos, therefore embedding key knowledge into the policy process from the beginning? Is there a need to foster new channels of engagement with policymakers?
· Does the process for being invited to present to all-party groups and to select committees need to be more transparent?
· To what extent can think tanks bridge the gap between policymakers and other stakeholders?
Would the UK have a better renewable energy climate outside of the EU? Do you think Brexit favors alternative source of energy investments? Join the debate to discuss how the renewable energy policy and a broader energy landscape evolve under the scenarios of being an EU member and the UK going on its own.
Key discussion points
Advantages of remaining in the EU
• One participant felt that the Chancellor is not interested in leading in climate policy and believes that the Climate Change Act could be repealed if we leave the EU. The participant felt that the general feeling around the referendum was that the risks of leaving are scarier than those of staying in.
• The UK cannot abandon EU rules on issues such as air quality if we retain our membership. There is a possibility that we could get ‘locked in’ and still have to comply, even if we vote to leave.
• The UK can make leadership statements outside of the EU, but cannot influence EU decisions.
• Stability is important for business. The uncertainty surrounding the referendum is in itself hindering renewable energy investment and innovation.
Advantages of leaving the EU
• If we were to leave the EU, the government would be free to subsidise energy projects such as Hinckley Point. EU rules prevent large subsidies to public energy projects. The US and China have achieved so much in the renewable energy field because they have been able to subsidise projects of their choosing.
Is EU membership really a driver of renewable energy development in the UK?
• Participants would like to change the investment landscape, but don’t think that it will change if we remain or leave in the EU.
• The Energy Act 2008 is actually more stringent that EU standards, which could imply that perhaps EU membership does not necessarily improve the renewable energy policy landscape
• On attracting innovation, participants were unsure as to whether EU membership would be beneficial. Participants also questioned whether EU membership was the most material factor in attracting innovation.
• Investment decisions are made on the business case and consumer demand, not whether or not we are members of the EU. Financial returns are the real driver of investment decisions.
• Policy simply serves to bring up the laggards rather than attract innovation. Companies that innovate are ahead of the curve and are not responding to legislation.
• In the event of Brexit, conservatism and reactionism will become more prevalent. One participant suggested that Brexit could cause a concurrent domestic shift to the left in response to the rise in conservatism.
• The Paris COP21 was successful because of business involvement. The best way to influence certain countries such as India is not through negotiating with their governments, but by building relationships with business. Political relations often cloud negotiations.
We continue the panel conversation, but through the ecological values lens and consider what impact the referendum decision will have on the values of the next generation of leaders, decision makers and employees. The key question being, how does the exposure to the different perspectives, ideas and influences of people from other EU countries contribute to the formation of the ecological values of British young people? How might this change if the Brexit goes ahead?
The People’s Values Debate Chair: Luke Wynne
What impact will the referendum decision have on the ecological values of the next generation of leaders, decision makers and employees?
Context - values
• Global Action Plan is trying to figure out if they are influencing kids’ values with their schools project that seeks to empower children on environmental issues;
• The young people joining their program are typically stimulation-seeking types who are passionate and not (yet!) cynical.
• How might this change?
• How are we defining ecological values? -> “Common Cause” (Shalom Schwartz - based) values as a standard but need to better define values from an ecological perspective.
How do different countries impact your values?
• ‘British’ values? Does the strong sense of ‘British-ness’ stem from being an island?
• Different experience in London as it is so multicultural v. some other parts of the UK
• Cultural influence in Europe from UK but not a two-way street
• In France people identify as European. In the UK, not so much.
• Can be both from the Netherlands and European – these can coexist
• Rural Australia instils strong environmental values but get different cultural perspectives in Melbourne.
• Now, more than ever, the world is a global village with global connectivity.
What bearing does the EU have on ecological values?
• EU as a values project? Not just an economic union.
• Long-term thinking e.g. EU Human Rights Convention
• No electoral agenda – trust to make the right decisions; not based on popular media etc.
• Free movement between countries, exposing children to other perspectives
What change might Brexit bring?
• Little influence on values given it doesn’t change geography or the fact that we are now so digitally connected?
• If it led to an uncertain state for growth, might be an increased focus on nationalism and security.
• UK would likely lose influence on key issues
• A potential crack down on immigration would limit the opportunity for exposure to different cultures and perspectives e.g. perhaps fewer European university placements (Erasmus), European job opportunities, a different mix of school peers…
• Often the EU is depicted e.g. in textbooks as a force for progress – would this image change to reflect reinforced national identity?
• What message would the next generation get and what impacts would they face if the UK then deregulates environmental issues?
• Increase in focus on local environmental priorities rather than global ones.
• A national government acting alone might be more at the mercy of lobbying by less progressive corporations – what message would this send to kids about democracy?
• Brexit for innovation? Isolation would create different relationships but collaboration breeds innovation. Uncharted territory.
• Would any increase in barriers to trade with the EU quench entrepreneurial spirit?
The round table will look at the social aspects of Brexit. Would a UK employee feel more secure and protected in our outside of the EU? Do you think workers' rights will be stronger under the EU directives? We invite you to think how social and employment policy could be shaped up under different scenarios, and with a particular focus on the UK volunteering regulation (the imminent 3 days) versus the EU’s.
The roundtable acknowledged that the EU has been a major force for employee rights and social policies for families, and fears that leaving the EU will result in a race to the bottom.
Generally, no one at the table was able to picture clearly what “staying in” or “leaving” would look like. Leaving the EU throws up a lot of questions which were explored by the roundtable.
Leaving comes with a lot of uncertainty – in particularly in regards to the future of employee rights for foreigners in the UK and UK employees abroad, how long will it take to change and what are the interim solutions? How high on the agenda are worker rights, how fast, following a Brexit, will they be discussed and will new policies implemented?
All roundtable participants belong to large international organisations which benefit from free movement of their employees in the EU. It allows a company to recruit efficiently from a larger talent pool. Will leaving the EU mean less access to talent abroad? What are the immediate consequences to foreign employees in the UK and UK employees abroad? Will they have to return to their home countries? Particularly small and mid-sized companies will be impacted if they cannot lift the cost of visas for their employees. How will their rights change? It is feared that if the rights for employees will change that they may decide to leave the company.
Furthermore, the membership in the EU enables employees to travel for work easily when needed. Leaving the EU will impact business travel –What are the cost and time requirements of visa arrangements? Will cost for flights and taxes go up?
Additionally, affecting the health of employees, it was asked whether the NHS will become more expensive and whether that would mean an increase in the retirement age.
Another worry mentioned was that corporations could potentially exercise more influence on a country rather than the entire EU – would the UK be tempted to accept lower taxes and reduce environmental compliance to attract more businesses?
One participant voiced the wish of more company involvement in the discussion, to hear how they think they would be impacted. Companies can move faster and are more flexible, ready to innovate – which is an advantage over governments. Companies could hold a bolder stance on environmental impacts and lead by example, as they have already done at COP. Ultimately, the EU presents a platform for collaboration – companies already embrace collaboration, and governments can equally benefit from it. The voice of the EU is louder than of individual members and the roundtable participant agreed that more can be achieved together.
However, it was also acknowledged that if the UK stays in the EU, that a reform will be needed. The referendum could act as a catalyst for discussions on change. The EU should recognise this opportunity for change and modernisation. The right politicians will be needed to lead these discussions.
What do you think of changes to UK carbon policy in the recent budget? Is there coherence in scrapping the CRC, retaining Mandatory Carbon Reporting and increasing the Climate Change Levy? Given what we know of this government, would the UK be more likely to fulfill its COP21 commitments outside the EU?
We discussed the recent changes to UK carbon policy in the context of its relationship with the EU. The key discussion areas were;
1. Policy changes have a real impact on sustainability teams
There was agreement that changes in carbon policy makes internal decision makes more risk averse in their response to carbon policy.
The changes and the scrapping of the CRC was discussed as a good example. CRC has been toxic since its birth, and now it has been scrapped. However, it actually has achieved its policy objectives. The valued elements were the fines and the way it made someone on the board take responsibility for actions.
There was a general sense that the current conservative government has less commitment to the corporate carbon agenda than its predecessors.
Many felt it is too early to judge whether ESOS, which is the result of a European Directive, is helping sustainability experts to remove carbon emission.
2. The EU provides policy stability
Whilst we acknowledged the complexity of 28 countries agreeing on policy may result in less ambition than one country could achieve, it provides policy stability beyond election cycles.
We heard how climate policy went backwards in Australia, including the scrapping of their Emissions Trading Scheme.
Our table would rather have a less ambitious, consistent set of carbon policies than volatility in policy making.
But has this really stopped the UK from scrapping solar subsidies for example?
EU also has the fines and this keeps countries in line. However, the UK takes the fine for air quality every year and doesn’t do anything about it. What does that say about the UK Government and the strength of the EU as a body of authority?
Brexit supporters are negative about the ETS. But globally there are a number of emergent schemes which are copying the ETS. It is a market-based approach so people like it.
3. The EU is important to innovation
The EU can fund research on a much bigger scale. We need the stability of a big institution to fund research which combines money from different countries.