Climate change action relies on EU membership

27th May 2016

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Victoria Vaughan-Williams

Britain's membership of the EU is vital to the fight against climate change, according to the current and former leaders of the Labour party.

In a speech at Raventhorpe solar farm in north Lincolnshire, Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband said UK membership of the EU had amplified its influence to secure a global agreement. Membership had not only raised the UK’s environmental standards but in turn has enabled Britain to drive progress in tackling climate change across all member states, they said.

The UK had also influenced and benefited from the common product standards that regulate clean technologies, which are crucial for future economic growth, they argued, noting that it was one of the top three recipients of financial support from the European Fund for Strategic Investments, which supports renewable energy and resource efficiency projects. Its loss would be a ‘significant blow’ for the low-carbon economy, they said.

‘Leaving the EU would risk investment in new green technologies and the jobs that accompany them, and would leave us open to the Tory agenda that has been so damaging to our environment,’ Corbyn said.

Meanwhile, think-tank Chatham House published a report outlining the risks and trade-offs associated with five possible options for a post-exit relationship.

Becoming part of the European Economic Area (EEA) in a similar way to Norway would be the least disruptive, as there would be continued access to the EU energy market, regulatory frameworks and investment, it states. However, EEA membership would mean accepting the vast majority of EU legislation, while relinquishing any say in its creation. The UK would have less, rather than more, sovereignty over energy policy, Chatham House concluded.

Another option would be to follow the example of Switzerland, which is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) but not the EEA, and negotiate bilateral treaties with the EU for access to the single market on a sector-by-sector basis. If the UK did the same, it would have greater sovereignty in a number of areas, such as building and infrastructure standards as well as state aid.

EFTA membership would entail higher risks, with greater uncertainty over market access, investment and electricity prices.

Both EEA and EFTA membership would reduce or even eliminate the UK’s contribution to the EU budget, but would also limit or cut off access to EU funding mechanisms.

They would also undermine the UK’s influence in international energy and climate diplomacy, the think-tank pointed out.

A decision to leave the EU would make it easier for a future UK government to change direction on climate policy, since only a change in domestic legislation would be required, it said.

Brexit could affect the balance of energy policy among the remaining member states, since in the UK’s absence, the EU energy move away from market mechanisms, which could weaken collective action on reducing greenhouse-gas emission, it stated.

In energy and climate change policy, remaining in the EU offers the best balance of policy options for Britain’s national interests, concluded the think-tank.


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