Brexit will influence climate policy at all scales

Yesterday, the Brits voted in a referendum for leaving the EU. What does this mean for European and global climate policies?

A Brexit will probably have significant consequences for climate policy development in the EU and in the UK, but it may also eventually influence global climate politics. The efforts to mitigate climate change have not been a major issue in the Brexit discussions, but climate policy will nonetheless be affected by the referendum outcome.

EU losing a climate champion

The EU is currently developing its climate policy for 2030, with a proposal for an effort sharing agreement expected this summer and proposals for revised policies for energy efficiency, renewables and the energy union coming towards the end of the year.

The UK had a huge impact on the framework for the 2030 policy that was agreed before the Paris climate talks. This framework paves the way for more market streamlining of the EU climate policy, with a greater emphasis on the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) as the main driver. It is an open question whether this drive towards market streamlining of EU climate policy will continue with the UK in a different position.

Importantly, it is also unclear whether the Brits will continue to vote as before in the European council while they also negotiate the conditions for leaving the union. It is likely that their arguments and positions will carry less weight.

Leaving more room for climate sceptics?

One may speculate that Poland could increase its ability to hamper development of more ambitious climate policies as the UK leaves the union. Poland is a big and influential country, famously against all efforts to strengthen EU climate policy. Without the UK, the relative strength of countries that promote high climate ambitions is weakened.

Without the UK the strength of countries that promote high climate ambitions is weakened in Europe.


In addition, Brexit adds to the pile of crisis that the EU leaders have to resolve. This leaves even less time to concentrate of climate policy development. Key persons and organizations with the EU will have to invest a lot of resources to deal with the UK leaving the union and the public debate on EU issue is due to focus on Brexit for years to come. This will probably not be positive for neither the speed of the negotiations nor the ambitiousness of the final result.

Uncertainty about British climate policies

From 2000 and onwards, EU climate policy has played a key role in the development of British climate policy. Sure the Brits have launched a range of policies on their own initiative, most importantly its Climate Change Act. Yet many of their climate measures are influenced by EU regulations and policies, such as the carbon price floor, the green deal and the contracts for difference, just to mention a few.

If the UK leaves the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA), it will be free to develop its own policies, in splendid isolation from the rest of the EU. As the UK has been one of the most vocal supporters of the EU ETS as the key instrument, this seems rather unlikely.

If the UK decides to stay in the internal market it will probably also continue to be a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), and like Norway be required to implement most of the EU climate policy – but without high chances of influencing their development.

Possible delay for Paris agreement ratification

If Brexit slows down the speed of the EU climate policy development, the ratification of the Paris Agreement will probably also be postponed. This may hamper the global competition for international climate political leadership.

Thus far, the EU has been the most reliable big actor in terms of delivering on their international climate commitment. The functioning of the Paris Agreement relies on national and regional actors delivering, on their own initiative, increasingly ambitious commitments. If the EU falls behind, it may have repercussions for the global climate politics dynamics.