The appointment of leading Brexiteer Michael Gove as Environment Secretary sparked fear among Scotland and Wales’ devolved environment ministers that Britain would see a watering down of climate targets.
The ministers have since teamed up to fight to keep existing regulations after Brexit.
For the UK and Gove to really deliver a Green Brexit, here are five things that need to happen after our withdrawal from the EU:
Product and efficiency standards need to be aligned with the EU
There has been talk of new trade deals, notably with the U.S. But if the UK were to decouple from EU standards it risks adding complexity and costs, plus fuelling an increase in emissions in the long term.
Divergence in standards could also lead to a dumping of inefficient products, with higher running costs and emissions, in the UK.
This includes labelling, where if standards are not maintained consumers could be blind to inefficient and environmentally harmful products.
No bonfire of regulations
Brexiteers campaigned on a ticket of cutting EU red tape, but many of these regulations surround emissions – and loosing them could lead to a weakening of the UK’s green agenda.
Even industry is not keen on a bonfire of regulations, as many of them keep a level playing field across EU member states.
Although Gove has promised to improve on the EU’s green protection regulation by delivering a ‘Green Brexit’, Scotland and Wales fear they will have to adhere to UK regulations rather than setting their own.
Given that Scotland’s 2009 Climate Change Act sets a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by 2020, compared to a UK-wide target of 34%, harmonisation could lead to a weakening of Scotland’s overall ambition.
Staying part of the single energy market will be important in the decarbonisation of the UK energy system
The UK is bound by the 2008 Climate Change Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.
Staying part of the single energy market will make this a lot easier, as it allows for electricity to be traded across borders.
This not only means lower prices for consumers but also provides balance, allowing more renewable energy to come onto the system.
The drive to renewables might be affected if the UK leaves the single energy market.
For example funding for innovation could be lost – €6 billion has already been given towards low-carbon energy projects by the EU.
Remaining part of the EU Emissions Trading Systems (ETS) will also be vital for industry in the UK
This carbon trading scheme allows companies to exceed their cap by paying a penalty, and buying carbon from companies who are under their limit.
Without this vital piece of infrastructure for a low-carbon economy the UK would have to set up its own trading scheme, which could create additional bureaucracy for the Government and a burden that the country could well do without.
Leaving the EU ETS also creates uncertainty for industry now reliant on the scheme.
Ideally we want to be moving towards a global emissions trading market or a global carbon price, so going backwards into a national UK version would be inefficient.
Rather than increasing the patchwork of carbon regulations, it would be much easier to stay in the EU version.
Companies must stick with the EU and global direction of travel
UK companies need to align their strategy and policies towards a low-carbon economy while managing the uncertainty of Brexit
We need companies to look at the long-term picture – and that is one of lower emissions, renewable energy and electric cars.
Working towards the implementation of sustainable development goals allows firms to increase their organisational resilience by demonstrating their understanding of a set of policy challenges that will remain relevant regardless of the future EU-UK relationship.
At a time when politics is becoming increasingly volatile and trust in businesses remains low, business decision-makers could do worse than aligning their strategies with an important, stable and long-term oriented agenda.
Frederik Dahlmann is Assistant Professor of Global Energy at Warwick Business School and researches the low-carbon economy.