By Sose Mayilyan and Annelieke Mooij, PhD Students, Dublin City University
On February 15, 2018, the DCU Brexit Institute held an event on “Brexit, Climate and Energy Policy” organised in partnership with the Irish Environmental Protection Agency and the Political Studies Association of Ireland. The event was hosted by Arthur Cox.
Opening Keynote Speech by Enrico Letta (former Italian Prime Minister and Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po Paris)
Enrico Letta spoke about Brexit being one of the most important challenges of our times, even though, as he reminded the audience, it is not as important in France and Italy as it is in Ireland. Before continuing, he gave warning that the topic is complicated and he cannot see a happy end of Brexit. The Union risks and will lose most in the area of energy and climate. In these topics the UK had a big leading role and therefore losing the UK is a loss for the EU.
Mr. Letta stated there would be no happy end, it was the most disastrous political choice made in this century. It was a bad choice to have a referendum to exit without an idea of the final destination, and it gave only half the decision. Currently, he argued, there are too many cleavages in UK’s political system. There is no possibility to completely save the damages, it is now the EU against the UK. Within the EU there are discussions, and next year all EU institutions will change their leaders. The future deal with the UK must be good, but the EU cannot create a better situation for a country out of the EU than for those in the EU. Otherwise the consequences would be terrible. Turning to the issue of climate and energy policy, Mr. Letta reminded the audience that the UK has had a big influence on energy and climate policies since the beginning. The UK will lose one of its key issues for the citizens to be pro-European. The EU also needs leadership on climate and energy, which is why we need to have a new strong internal leader. Energy was always thought of as a national issue until the liberalization of the market. As it is no longer a national issue, it needs a transnational approach. The energy market will see changes as nuclear energy will lose support. A Brexit also means Brexatom, meaning that the UK will also leave Euratom.
Finally, Mr. Letta reminded the audience that it is important to keep European unity, regardless of Brexit. Lots of work still needs to be done. The best decision would be to stop the clock because that would be the only way to get a good deal.
Panel – Challenges for climate and energy policy
The panel was opened by Charlotte Burns (Professor, University of Sheffield), whose research focuses on the factors shaping environmental resilience in the face of external challenges, as well as the implications of Brexit for UK and EU environmental policy.
Discussing the environmental impacts of Brexit, she mentioned a number of issues arising from the Brexit process. Those include the decrease of the level of the existing standards of climate change, the absence of CJEU as an institution supervising the enforcement of EU environmental policy in the UK and concerns about competitive pressure.
The United Kingdom has long had the reputation of being an environmental leader, mostly thanks to its Climate Change Act adopted in 2008. However, in the current situation, the concern arises that the UK might not retain this position in the climate change policy in light of Brexit. First and foremost, Brexit is in itself a huge distraction and has the tendency to squeeze the political agenda within the UK to certain questions. Secondly, there is a concern that the British Government might abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change, which would result in a decrease in the capacity of the UK to remain a leader in this. Finally, the strength of the British Government to commit to climate change might be undermined, too. Even so, there are grounds for optimism if a correct approach is taken in this regard, which would be in the interest both of the UK and the EU.
The discussion was continued by Joseph Curtin (University College Cork and Institute of International and European Affairs). His research is focused on international climate policy and energy policy, as well as the use of financial incentives for transition to a low-carbon economy.
He considered three post-Brexit scenarios.
In case of a soft Brexit, the UK would retain membership of the customs union and single market and would therefore remain part of the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, but it would no longer be part of the EU bubble for burden sharing of climate targets. Currently, the UK is taking not only an ambitious but also a flexible approach towards climate change. Moreover, at the EU level it has always taken its share of the burden and has pushed for radical and comprehensive reforms in the area. Post-Brexit, that voice at the EU level would be lost.
In case of a hard Brexit, the UK would probably decide to leave the EU emissions scheme and this way the Union will lose those ambitions. Even if in this scenario the UK maintains its leadership position, the EU would still be the one losing the most.
In the scenario of an ultra-hard Brexit, there would be around 600 pieces of EU legislation that will not necessarily be transformed into domestic legislation, which would severely damage climate change cooperation.
In all three post-Brexit scenarios, the EU and the UK would be worse off, but it is perhaps the EU that would suffer most.
The discussion was continued by Tanya Harrington, the Head of Government Affairs and Regulation at Powerscourt Group, who talked about the challenges for energy policy after Brexit.
Harrington noted that, in broad terms, Brexit poses a number of fundamental challenges to Ireland’s energy policy, including to the energy market, energy stocks and in particular to the future of the Single Electricity Market (SEM) on the island of Ireland. She stressed the importance of the latter as a crucial case of cross-jurisdictional regulation of the electricity market from 2007 and as a good way of delivering electricity supply to citizens on the island.
An important role in this area is played by the SEM Committee, which is the single decision-making authority within the area. She noted that the SEM is emblematic of EU energy policy for regional governance in terms of the degree of integration of decision-making across two different jurisdictions.
After Brexit, institutional change could take two forms, evolutionary or revolutionary. Evolutionary change would result in either a unification of existing arrangements into either a single all-island regulatory body, an all-islands regulatory body, or multilateral regional governance arrangements. Revolutionary change would result in a disestablishment of this system.
Dr. Harrington noted that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU leaves Ireland facing with a number of additional concerns. Particularly, Brexit leads to a radically altered unfavourable political context, a risk of policy and regulatory divergence and an unknown nature of the future relationship with the UK. As a result of this, the option of creating an East-West arrangement is discounted entirely, in her opinion. Nevertheless, the revolutionary option is still possible, which, however, involves an additional political risk.
The functioning of the last 10 years of SEM demonstrates the importance of the establishment of a favourable political context, the creation of an agreed political leadership, the sharing of political vision, policy and regulatory alignment, as well as the establishment of a robust institutional design.
The Irish Government’s negotiating position has been clear, with commitments towards common travel area, Good Friday Agreement and the avoidance of a hard border. In terms of SEM, cooperation has to be maintained and keeping a steady course through the negotiations will offer the greatest hope for a mutually acceptable regulation of the area in question.
The panel discussion was continued by Diarmuid Torney (Assistant Professor, Dublin City University), whose research focuses on comparative and global politics of climate change and energy, particularly in the European Union.
Discussing the climate change policy in the EU, he focused on three issues: the impact of Brexit on the internal EU climate change policy, the building impacts of EU’s contribution to global governance and Ireland’s approach towards the issue.
The removal of one of the champions of climate action from the EU, according to Torney, is undoubtedly bad news for EU climate actions, especially considering that this takes place in a context where certain other Member States (such as Poland and other Visegrád countries) are, in fact, questioning the agenda on climate change. Thus, the balance of forces in this regard will change after the UK’s departure. Moreover, Brexit will lead to negative economic implications, both for the UK and the EU.
In terms of global governance in the context of the UN negotiations, the role of the EU might decrease. However, the response to US President’s announcement of the intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was encouraging, with the EU, Canada and China coming together and committing to the Paris agreement and to the global decarbonisation agenda. Moreover, given other developments around the globe, a strong EU fighting and advocating on behalf of decarbonisation is needed.
Another issue to consider is the fact that UK’s very large cohort of diplomats were very important in working around the world with national governments and local stakeholders promoting decarbonisation. Therefore, when UK is removed from EU’s climate diplomacy, a gap is going to arise in this regard. He expressed hope that even after Brexit, the UK and the EU will be able to work together, stressing, however, that is still an open question.
Torney also noted that the Brexit process changes the political calculations for Ireland in the EU. The Irish Government is asking for diplomatic support from its European partners in the Brexit negotiations. In parallel to that, Ireland has difficulty defending its low corporate tax regime with the UK leaving the table. Ireland is increasingly recognised as a poor performer in responding to climate change in the European context. Nevertheless, Ireland could make alliances by adopting a more proactive commitment to climate change, especially taking into account the fact that there is a real demand for greater action from the Irish Government.
The discussion was followed by questions from the audience about the lack of support for government in the climate change policy, possible inclusion of climate change provisions in trade agreements with the UK and the approximation of provisions of environmental law.
Closing high-level panel
The floor was then open to Laura Burke who is the Director General of the Irish Environmental Protection Agency. She argued that balanced and respectful co-existence is the best option. After which she gave a brief overview of the current situation in Ireland with regard to its emissions. There is a commitment to achieve 80% emission reduction compared to 1990 levels by 2050. Emissions in Ireland grew until 2001, at which point they began to decline. There was a dramatic decline during the recession, but they went up again when the recession ended.
As matters currently stand, the European and national targets will not be met, and Ireland certainly cannot be considered a leader in this field. Additionally the sooner the process of emission decline starts, the less the yearly impact will be.
The last speaker of the afternoon was Baroness Brown, who is member of the UK House of Lords, and Deputy Chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change. She emphasised that Brexit does not change the UK’s climate laws or goals. The Prime Minister is very committed to combatting climate change. Therefore, green plans are very high up on the agenda and will be growing in importance.
Brexit does mean that EU policies will have to be transferred into new national laws. This transfer is considered by some as a chance to set the standard a bit higher. An important question will be how to translate the EU policies providing both direction and delivery. Some of this EU legislation is good for the people, such as EU product standards, which have helped to keep electricity bills down, despite the increase of electric consumer goods. Additionally, if standards are set too low, then the UK will be the dumping ground of bad products that cannot be sold elsewhere, which would be a very undesirable situation for the UK. There is also the issue that the UK’s legislation is less robust: it sets targets and advises in progress but that is it. Currently, the EU is the one monitoring and enforcing the legislation, and the question is who will do that after Brexit? Additionally, EU laws have a lot of principles, such as the polluter pays and the precautionary principle, that are enshrined in preambles of EU instruments and that do not exist in the UK legislation. Close attention must be paid in order to ensure that these principles will remain applicable after Brexit.