Get ready to vote: EU referendum

With just a few days to go, you may want to remind yourself of all pros and cons of remaining or leaving the EU based on the environmental equation. Here’s a summary of the top arguments in and out drawn from the opinions that Caroline Lucas MP, Michael Liebreich, Lord Callanan, Professor Paul Ekins OBE well expressed at the Crowd’s Referendum Debate. 

 

CASE FOR REMAIN

 

Cross-border nature of environmental problems. They don’t queue at borders waiting for their passports to be checked. They are by their very nature cross-border, and therefore need cross-border solutions. 

 

The EU harmonises European policies. It is desirable especially for energy and environment polices of European countries to be harmonised on the European level rather than on the national level. 

 

The EU prevents race to the bottom through offering a vital level fields of minimal environmental legislation across Europe. The EU multiplies British influence, ideas and values. 

 

Keeping control and influence. UK politicians will have a positive influence over the EU rules that will continue to affect Britain regardless if they’re a member of the EU. 

 

The EU is more democratic than UK as it gives weight to European democratic values and legitimate aspirations of the member states for the national sovereignty. Brussels proposes the legislation, which is then discussed in the European Parliament (which is directly elected from all member states) by proportional representation – some see this as more democratic than the UK Parliament. 

 

Sovereignty is best exercised in collaboration with other countries. The EU has more clout on the global stage then the individual member states.

 

UK interests in energy and environment would be better pursued inside the EU. It’s impossible to imagine that UK would not want to be a part of the single European market. The UK exports 45% into the single market, 2/3rds of which are goods. 

 

Leave campaign doesn’t have a clear picture of what Britain would look like in the case of Brexit. The majority believe it will be similar to those of Norway and Switzerland, which means having access to the market, but in return having to adopt the vast majority of the EU environmental legislation. But they don’t have a say on formulation of the legislation.  

 

Climate change is the biggest threat the humanity faces. The best minds and technology are needed as fast as possible to tackle the catastrophe. By working inside the EU, humanity has a better chance of responding quickly. 

 

CASE FOR LEAVE

 

Not all good environmental things come from the EU. For instance, since Kyoto protocol, the US has made faster progress in phasing out coal than the EU. Or for the past 17 years, emissions from the energy sector in Germany have not budged. 

 

Some of the most important environmental legislations are driven by the UK. This includes peat care, establishing the marine reserve, the carbon floor price, and the decision to phase out coal by 2020. The EU’s ETC don’t work. 

 

Look at deeds not words. Investment in clean energy in the EU is half of what China is investing in clean energy today.  

 

The EU only talks about leading on the environment, but is not leading. The EU response to the VW emissions scandal was to double the Nitrogen Oxide emission cap for diesel cars. This is not the response of a block that is leading on the environment.

 

Europe lacks an understanding of environmental innovation. The environmental problems can only be solved through innovation. Much of the UK’s tech innovation research is outsourced to the EU, and most of the Horizon 2020 budget is spent on socio-economic rather than environmental projects.

 

The EU takes the environmental debate out of Westminster. The existence of Europe means a lot of environmental lobbing is focused on Brussels rather than Westminster, which takes debate and education out of the UK. When policies then arrive from Brussels, they are then seen to be imposed by the mother ship – without being socialised first. That can make them unpopular.

 

The EU is slow to reform and lacks flexibility. It didn't reform when UK threatened to leave. What makes one think it will reform if Britain stays?

 

The society has every technology we need to solve climate change. Challenge is rather socio-cultural and political. 

 

There is no need to become a part of a superstrate in order to take actions on environment and energy. Collaboration can continue without being member of the club. 

 

Elina Yumasheva is head of content at The Crowd.

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What EU referendum could mean to the UK environment?

Several aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU have been chewed over, or at least skimmed over, in recent weeks as the media has laid its own foundations for the referendum. Largely absent from the cavalcade however have been some of the areas of policy where the EU is most active. Amongst these is the environment. Environmental policy has become a joint effort between the EU and its constituent countries over the last four decades and now it would be difficult to unpick the purely national from the European, as noted by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee earlier this week. 

 

There are at least three reasons for this. First, many of the key environmental issues are cross-border by their nature. These include the response to climate change, the management of the marine environment and the conservation of migratory species. Second, there is an economic logic in agreeing common standards and approaches to many issues inside a single market where there are no barriers to trade. Common technical barriers, for example on polluting emissions from cars, on the levels of chemicals and heavy metals in consumer products and the energy efficiency of electrical appliances, prevent indirect barriers to trade and avoid giving competitive advantage to countries adopting lower standards. Third, there is the historical reality that governments have proved more comfortable in making long term decisions, for example in reducing water pollution and building a low carbon economy, when their neighbours and partners commit to the same obligations as well. This is partly a question of political courage. Facing possible short term opposition and potential costs for the sake of longer term gains is more palatable if others are doing it as well. The chances of facing unfair competition from those less committed to sustainability are greatly reduced when there are relatively consistent rules applying throughout the EU. 

 

Nearly all the studies examining the EU’s record on the environment come to similar conclusions. Standards have been raised, pollution has fallen, new processes and targets have been put in place; the influence of European countries in international negotiations almost certainly is enhanced by acting together within the EU. Decisions can be slow as there is extensive discussion and consultation; some are difficult to change which can be a drawback but the solidity of the policy provides industry with greater regulatory predictability than purely national law. Club membership has both merits and frustrations, not unexpectedly. However, the recent reports from the House of Commons, a group of academics led by Andrew Jordan and Charlotte Burns and my own institute, IEEP, all agree on how much progress has been made with the collective approach. They also agree that the UK has been an influential player in establishing the now substantial edifice of EU law. 

 

So what next? Government witnesses to the Commons Committee thought that Brexit would trigger a “long and torturous” negotiation on environmental policy and there would clearly be a period of extended uncertainty. This is a concern for both the environmental community and the body of industry that is affected by EU law on the environment, climate change, energy, agriculture and fisheries. 

 

Beyond this largely unavoidable outcome, my institute has agreed that there are two distinct scenarios that could arise if the UK were to vote to leave the EU.

 

Under one, the UK successfully negotiates membership of the EEA, which is not a foregone conclusion. Often referred to as the “Norway” scenario, this would entail an obligation for the UK to follow most EU environmental legislation (with a few important exceptions) while being excluded from decisions about making or amending such legislation. Opportunities to tailor EU law to UK concerns, often taken in the past, would greatly diminish. 

 

Under a second scenario, outside the EEA, the UK would be free to choose its own environmental legislation, within certain limits imposed by international law and the requirements applying to goods exported to the EU market. This would be a major undertaking, complicated by a legitimate role for devolved administrations within the UK to pursue their own, more distinctive approaches if they wished to. Outside the EU Single Market, the UK government would be more tempted to seek competitive advantage (including cutting administrative burdens) where they could. So it is not unreasonable to expect an attempt to roll back a number of environmental standards under this scenario. 

 

Despite the relative silence of the media on this topic, these issues are highly strategic and the choices far from trivial. 

 

David Baldock is Executive Director at the Institute for European Environmental Policy. He will speak at The Crowd’s EU referendum debate on 9th May alongside Caroline Lucas MP Green Party, Michael Liebreich BNEF, Lord Deben The Committee on Climate Change, and Lord Callanan House of Lords. More info is here

 

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