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27 June 2016

Don't get too worried about Brexit just yet...

Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. UK Flag and EU Flag. British Union Jack flag.

Yesterday at a kids party, a neighbour of mine asked me "You must be even more furious about the EU referendum result than I am?" She was quite surprised when I told her I was "sanguine" about it, despite having actively campaigned for an 'IN' vote.

Why? The most pivotal moment since the momentous result was the outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron refusing to pull the trigger on 'Article 50' which would start the Brexit process. This means that whoever takes over from him would have to actively pitch the country into the unknown. A poisoned chalice indeed.

If that is a Remainer Tory PM, what incentive is there to press the button and risk long term damage to our country? If it's the current favourite, Brexiter Boris Johnson, he's already signalled that there is "no rush", that initial negotiations with the EU should be "informal" and that he wants to maintain a close relationship with Europe – a statement which has been interpreted as swift back-pedalling. If a new PM went to the polls, there's a strong chance of a change of Government and the possibility of a party standing on a Remain ticket forming part of the Government. The EU referendum result is only advisory in law and could be trumped by an electoral mandate.

So there is no Brexit plan and no enthusiasm from anyone to make one. And my prediction is that, as the cold light of reality shines on the implications of walking away from the EU, Brexit will slowly but surely become Fudgit.

OK, but if I'm wrong, and we suddenly find ourselves on our own, what are the implications for Sustainability in the UK?

Well all existing EU environmental directives are enshrined in UK law during the implementation phase, so a post Brexit Government would have to actively dismantle what is there. Future directives would at least partly have to be adopted by UK companies to maintain trading links – and may be imposed as a condition of staying in the single market. The biggest downside of Brexit from this point of view would be our lack of a seat at the table when such directives are drawn up.

Also, we are a global economy. So if we want to sell to, say, Walmart, P&G or Unilever, our industry would be required to comply with their supply chain targets. These will only ever get more ambitious.

So, while I believe Brexit is the wrong path for our country, I'm not convinced that it will happen, or indeed that the drivers for sustainable business will diminish much if it did.

 

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23 May 2016

Britain Greener in Europe

Flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union. UK Flag and EU Flag. British Union Jack flag.

About 15 years ago, I was at an international eco-design conference. As I wandered around the poster displays during a coffee break, I came across a young US researcher presenting a study on the then forthcoming EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.

"Why are Americans so interested in European legislation?" I asked her.

"It's a massive market and if our brands want to sell there, we've got to comply with the legislation." she replied.

"Ahhhh..." I said as the penny dropped.

Fast forward to today and we in the UK are a month away from a referendum on whether to remain in the EU or leave. I have commented in the past that climate denial and Euroscepticism go hand in hand, and I'm sure that 'freeing' the UK of environmental legislation is one of the desires of the 'Brexit' crowd.

Except, as we have seen above, we wouldn't be free at all. If we want to export to Europe, we'll have to comply with all existing and future legislation, only we would have zero influence over the content of that legislation.

The environmental angle is probably the main reason that I'll be voting to stay in the EU. The history of the EU has been one of raising the bar on environmental issues, whether on water quality or climate change, rather than the 'race to the bottom' we see in other parts of the world. And that combined economic heft means that if the EU decides to ban a toxic substance or insist on recyclability built into products, then the whole world has to sit up and take note. On this at least, the EU is a powerful force for good.

I'm IN.

 

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6 February 2008

EU's climate action & renewable energy package

I've been meaning for some time to comment on the European Commission's Climate action and renewable energy package. The EU has committed to reducing its overall emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, which would be scaled up to 30% under a new global climate change agreement if other industrialised countries make comparable efforts. It has also set itself the target of increasing the share of renewables in energy use to 20% by 2020.

The proposed measures include:

  • an improved emissions trading system (ETS) covering more emissions and allowing firms in one EU country to buy allowances in any other;
  • an emission reduction target for industries not covered by the ETS (e.g. buildings, transport, waste) so that everyone is contributing;
  • legally enforceable targets for increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix – the targets will reflect each country's individual needs and its potential;
  • new rules on carbon capture and storage and on environmental subsidies.

Powerful stuff: hopefully this will give the renewables industry in the UK a shot in the arm, but there are also plenty of sticks to push industry towards a low carbon future.

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