As all eyes turn to Britain in the final months before it leaves the EU, the question on many people’s lips is: “what is Britain going to do to keep its emissions under control?” Until now, the EU has been the driving force behind many of the nation’s carbon reduction policies, but once the UK has left the union, it is unclear how the country will move forward in this department.
Currently, the plan is to implement a green watchdog that will hold the government to account for its environmental policies and ensure ministers stick to their promises. Theresa May said this would be a world leading, independent, statutory body that would be similar in its powers to the European commission. The only problem is that the UK government seems to be deliberately weakening its powers before it has even got off the ground. Already, ministers have excluded climate change from the remit of the watchdog’s powers despite it being one of the most pressing issues in this area.
Elsewhere within Whitehall, Alistair Darling and Michael Howard are backing a cross-party campaign that will see a carbon tax implemented for any companies selling fossil fuels in Britain. This heightened tax should act as a deterrent to selling fossil fuels and will steadily increase in the hopes of phasing out the polluting energy source as much as possible over the coming years. This, they believe, will ensure the government sticks to its commitment to continue cutting carbon emissions post-Brexit.
At the moment, Britain is part of the European Union’s emissions trading system (ETS). After it leaves the union, the nation will need to decide whether it will keep close links with the system or build its own. If Britain manages to negotiate a soft Brexit then there is a possibility of staying in the ETS until the next trading period ends, in 2030. This option is preferable for many big businesses and climate change activists. Unfortunately, to date negotiations have not looked promising and the chances of a soft Brexit seem to be dwindling. However, if Britain does build its own system for monitoring emissions it will need to build one that satisfies the needs of the three devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
If the UK leaves the EU and does not have a sensible ETS replacement, it could have severe consequences for the health of the planet and could bring about the collapse of the EU’s primary carbon-cutting tool. It could allow the UK to have free reign over its emissions policies and potentially prevent British factories, airlines, and power generators from having to pay for their emissions. This would essentially undo a lot of the good work that the EU has been working towards.
A carbon tax seems simple in the first instance but it is far more complex than just laying down a blanket tax on companies. Is it limited to power generators or will it affect all areas of industry? These are important questions to be decided. The tax would also have to satisfy the devolved governments mentioned above, which could be quite the bureaucratic extravaganza.
Overall, the future of the UK is unclear and that is causing huge amounts of panic and confusion for relevant stakeholders. The country has until March to sort itself out, let’s see how it does.