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. 




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. 




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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86% of London’s corporate sustainability experts want to remain in the EU

On the 11th May The Crowd hosted a debate on whether the UK is better off remaining in or leaving the EU from an environmental policy perspective, with over 200 corporate sustainability executives. The final poll result was emphatic: 86% voted to remain, 9% to leave, and 5% were unsure.


Was it a victory for remain or for intelligent debate? What startled us most was the positive atmosphere in the room after the debate. With much of the national debate focusing on emotion and sound bites, both sides can quickly become fearful of the wrong outcomes. Thanks to the passionate but intelligent positions of our experts, there was a feeling that both outcomes could be OK as long as we have the right people making decisions.


We had some of the leading minds on both sides of the argument, with tight moderation by Axel Threlfall. We began with an overview of our environmental policy relationship with the EU from The IEEP’s David Baldock, who made it clear that there needs to be a lot of upside if we are to undergo a period of considerable environmental policy uncertainty. The remain argument was articulately made by Caroline Lucas MP and Professor Paul Ekins, with support from Lord Marks. Michael Liebreich and Lord Callanan made the case for leaving the EU.


There were so many good points, but here are four arguments that we found striking.


The EU undermines our cultural willingness for environmental policy


Michael Liebreich made an argument for leaving that we hadn’t heard before, and which generated a lot of conversation afterwards. He said the existence of Europe means a lot of our 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, which increases them being unpopular.


“The fact is why would any NGO bother doing all the campaigning for all these things to influence the Tory party, my party or to change the debate in this country when quite clearly you get funded in Brussels to do so. And then the results are imposed… The politicians don’t really mind because they can turn out and say it’s Brussels fault.” – Michael Liebreich said.


The EU provides important environmental policy stability


One of the grounding arguments for remain is closely linked to the nature of the UK election cycle. When a newly elected government changes environmental policies it weakens the business case for key internal decision makers, diminishing the company’s willingness to respond. The EU protects against such volatility and gives credibility and security for companies to invest. Businesses would rather have a slow moving stability rather than fast moving volatile political environment.


Environmental problems need to be solved through collaboration


We had a healthy debate on air pollution, with all panelists agreeing that the London has one of the worst air pollution in Europe. For Lord Callanan that’s a sign that the European approach isn’t working. But for Caroline Lucas it is an example of why we need to collaborate more on policy. “Environmental problems do not queue politely at borders waiting for their passports to be checked. They are by their very nature cross border and therefore need cross border solutions.” Echoing his partner point, Professor Paul Ekins says: “if you want to collaborate, you have to be a member of the club.”


The EU lacks an understanding of environmental innovation


A big thrust of Michael Liebreich’s argument was that we need innovation to tackle environmental challenges, and he cited Elon Musk as example of why we can be optimistic. His views drew a lot of discussion on Twitter, #crowdforum. Michael told the audience that very few Horizon 2020 grants go towards environmental innovation – there are only 2 graphene projects, for example – whilst there are hundreds of social engagement projects. “We can only make environmental progress through innovation. Europe is not innovative” – he said. 


At the beginning of the debate, Axel Threlfall quotes some of the latest public polls, which are showing around a 45% Remain vote. The question we’re pondering over is why we got such a different outcome for this vote from the national vote. Is it because environmental policy requires more collaboration than other areas of policy making? Is our community just more collaborative than the population at large? Are we lacking in little Englanders? Whatever is the answer to that question, one thing we know for sure is that if the vote on the 23rd June is for Brexit, this community will feel a significant sense of loss.  


Watch the full EU referendum debate here.


Elina Yumasheva is head of content at The Crowd. 

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