In the summer 2019 Britain was the first G7 member to incorporate a new commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 into law. Since then the country has maintained ambitious green targets for the coming years.
Leo Strawbridge, energy manager from Derry City and Strabane District Council, Northern Ireland, says: “In November 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a ten point plan for a green industrial revolution backed by a £12 billion government investment scheme covering green energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies.”
Philippa Spence, executive director of the UK Environment & Health branch of the consulting company Ramboll adds: “The Ten Point Plan, the Energy White Paper and the Decarbonising Transport Plan are examples of the government’s intent and direction of travel. In this context, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which is scheduled for November in Scotland, will be a chance to present the country as a global leader in this space.”
But with post-Brexit consequences looming over the UK, experts wonder how well these initiatives will perform without the European Union help or a community pre-set agenda.
Vincent Moreau, scientist at the Laboratory of Environmental and Urban Economics, EPFL, Switzerland says: "During the negotiations very little consideration was given to emissions in the agreement, except for standards. Norms have been part of the conflict between the UK and the EU. Brexit will clearly have an impact on the UK's decarbonisation efforts. The country is now outside the ‘European burden sharing’ agreement for joint reduction in emissions and will now have to reduce emissions on its own.”
According to Philippa Spence, one area that will likely be slowed down by Brexit is the energy transition: “We no longer have the European policy framework to follow. UK replacement policies are essential to encourage investment in the country’s energy transition, and we are a long way from having these in place. However, signals are that Britain will seek to remain relevant and world leading in the post-Brexit era. We are 1% of the globe’s emissions so our greatest impact will be in helping with efforts to decarbonise others. Green technology and manufacturing are the kind of value-added service that the UK must be at the forefront of, for its economic prosperity as well as its global relevance in the future.”
Others believe that COVID-19 will likely impact decarbonisation efforts more than Brexit. “The long-term financial implications of the COVID pandemic may have a bearing on all nations' ability to meet their net zero carbon target,” says Strawbridge.
He adds: “I don’t think Brexit will impact the green transition, particularly in Northern Ireland considering our close ties with the Republic of Ireland. Both countries operate a single electricity market and see the benefits of working in partnership to reduce the impact of climate change as it doesn’t recognise physical borders. In particular, Derry City and Strabane District Council, in partnership with Donegal County Council, has developed a regional energy strategy to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2045 and adopted a climate action plan.” These initiatives will be supported by funds from local institutions and organisations, and European Union projects.
One such project is STARDUST, in which Derry is one of the “follower cities” that will replicate smart solutions tested in the “lighthouses” Pamplona, Tampere and Trento. Strawbridge says: “Under the regional energy strategy our council has ambitious targets in deep retrofitting of commercial buildings and housing stock to achieve efficiency levels above the national standards. We are also implementing a programme to install smart meters to collect data and enable consumers to make informed choices about energy consumption. And we're developing low carbon networks to maximise the opportunities for locally generated energy from renewable sources for consumption and storage. We will also work in partnership with the national transport operator to roll out electric and hydrogen fuelled buses in the next two years. We’ll collaborate with local and national entities to develop infrastructures to support the transition from fossil to electric-fuelled vehicles in the next five years.”
Brexit should not heavily affect the UK’s research on decarbonisation as the nation will continue getting funds for EU projects such a STARDUST.
Britain was among the largest beneficiaries of Horizon 2020, the previous European programme for research and innovation. The country feared to lose this important support.
However, the last-minute deal struck on 24 December confirmed that British universities, institutions and companies will be able to apply for the new Horizon Europe programme on almost the same basis as their EU counterparts.
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