IN or OUT? How the green economy will vote on Britain’s EU referendum

Energy and environment ministers, green NGOs and sustainable businesses groups have revealed their stance on Britain's European Union (EU) membership, with the overwhelming majority agreeing that remaining IN the EU is crucial for our transition to a low-carbon future.

Prime Minister David Cameron recently confirmed that an ‘IN’/’OUT’ referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU will take place on 23 June, 2016. But if votes go in favour on an exit, Cameron himself believes it would be “the gamble of the century”.

The Conservative Party’s energy and environment departments are equally cautious about an ‘OUT’ vote – particularly in relation to Britain’s part of the EU’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the Paris climate deal, and our role in the newly-drafted circular economy package.

Last week, the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) revealed that working with the EU to support decarbonisation efforts would play a signficant part in its new five-year plan. The Department is also fully aware that departing the EU would see Britain’s stake in billions of pounds of green investment through the European Investment Bank removed.

Brexit: What green ministers have to say…

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock have both given their support for remaining in a ‘reformed’ EU, with Rudd claiming it would “make use stronger, safer and better off”, and Hancock stating that “in a turbulent and uncertain world, we should not add to those risks to our economic security with years of uncertainty”. 

Within the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), Environment Secretary Liz Truss has also repeated Cameron’s desire to remain in the EU, citing global market uncertainty – especially for farmers – as a reason why Britain shouldn’t “leap into the dark”.

But not all green ministers are in agreement. While Cameron can lean on the support of Truss, Rudd and Hancock in his battle to keep Britain in the EU, the ‘IN’ camp is facing pressure from the likes of Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, who stand firmly in the ‘OUT’ camp.

In a letter to her constituents in South Northamptonshire, Leadsom made it “absolutely clear” that she wants to leave the EU, citing the share of global economic activity; issues relating to the Euro currency; and the migration crisis as key reasons for her decisions.

Brexit: What green business has to say…

With MPs squabbling over the pros and cons of ‘Brexit’, sustainability professionals, green business groups and NGOs wait patiently on the sidelines.

While many are refusing to represent their organisation by stepping into either camp, edie has heard from those that want their voices to be heard – and initial results suggests that, despite its potential flaws, remaining IN the EU provides unparalleled benefits for the green economy.

James Goodman, director of futures, Forum for the Future 

“A British exit from the EU would be a mistake for sustainability in the UK. The EU is far from perfect but the regulation coming from the EU in myriad areas – around water and air quality to name a few – has helped to steer the UK out of a polluted post-industrial era and into – broadly speaking – one at least a little more on track towards sustainability.

“After Brexit, a government like the one we have now – one that seeks to frack for gas beneath national parks, privatise our forests, cull our wildlife – would be likely to drive a huge diesel-powered truck through much of the complex and beneficial legislation that has built up over the years. And we know through our board level relationships with some of the UK’s most progressive companies, that a Brexit would probably mean the sustainability leadership position they have been able to carve out on a global scale would be under threat. That would be bad for our economy and bad for the long-term future of British business.

“To add to all of that, the sustainable future will be based on people choosing to work together to common goals, beyond the boundaries of sector, age group or nation, recognising our fundamental interdependence. A Brexit would be a massive lurch away from ‘our common future.’”

Sam Lowe, campaigner, Friends of the Earth

“The EU has been good for UK environment and has given a boost to green business. The EU Renewable Energy Directive has spurred rapid growth in the renewable energy across the UK. In the past five years, we have witnessed the fundamental position of renewable energy shift, with lower costs and increased investment pushing it into the mainstream. What with the current government’s seeming hostility to elements of the green sector, it seems highly unlikely that renewable energy would remain a priority without EU enforcement.

“Greater energy trading and interconnectedness are essential if we are to ever see renewable energy solutions and smart grid technologies reach their peak potential. This vision of the future is almost in our grasp. And it is far more readily realised working alongside our European neighbours than against.

“Many of the existential threats we face are global in nature – be it climate change or conflict. Now, perhaps more than ever, is not the time to pull up the drawbridge and take them on alone.”

Jacob Hayler, executive director, Environmental Services Association (ESA)

“To date, the net impact of EU legislation has been positive for the waste and recycling industry, which has undergone radical change in response to the drivers implemented to meet our European obligations. Whether the UK should remain in the EU from our sector’s perspective will largely depend upon what would replace the long-term policy framework established in Brussels.

“Industry investment critically depends on certainty, a degree of which at least is provided by EU legislation. If the UK chooses to go it alone then it will be vital for the UK Government to put in place a long-term strategic vision for waste and resources that supports jobs and investment whilst boosting recycling and recovery.”

Martin Harper, director of conservation, RSPB

“The outcome of the referendum on EU membership could have significant implications for the RSPB’s ability to fulfil its charitable objectives.

“Given that nature knows no boundaries – for example, birds migrate – the RSPB has always believed we need to act internationally especially as the threats – such as pollution – are often diffuse. Comprehensive international agreements for nature conservation and the environment are therefore essential.

“Evidence suggests that the EU has had a positive impact through some of its environment policies. However, there are also areas where we have concerns or feel more needs to be done. We recognise that very few issues are entirely clear-cut. However, we all want to see clean air and water for future generations, as well as an attractive countryside rich in wildlife.

“As both sides seek to clarify and present their respective visions for the future, the RSPB will challenge both the ‘IN’ and ‘OUT’ campaigns to explain how their stance will help protect and enhance the environment.  Through this ‘referendum challenge’ process, we hope to help RSPB supporters and the wider public to gain greater clarity about the environmental implications of the UK remaining in or leaving the EU and to ensure that nature features in the public debate.”

Ben Stafford, head of public affairs, WWF

“As the debate ahead of the EU referendum kicks off in earnest, WWF is urging both the ‘IN’ and ‘OUT’ camps to set out how they would ensure continued strong protections for the UK’s environment – and thriving markets for sustainable business – whatever the outcome of the vote. 

“Research commissioned by WWF and others suggests that, on balance, Britain’s membership of the EU has delivered benefits for our environment that would be hard to replicate in the event of the UK leaving.  So whatever decision is made, it is vital that it doesn’t come at the expense of thriving wildlife, clean air and water, strong action on climate change and growing green businesses.”

Nick Molho, executive director, Aldersgate Group

“EU environmental legislation has provided to date important benefits for UK businesses and the environment. Many environmental issues such as climate change and air quality are transnational in nature and other environmental issues, whilst not always or necessarily transboundary (e.g. water pollution), are common to many member states.

“Whilst some improvements must be made, EU legislation has helped tackle some of these challenges in a more environmentally and economically effective manner by pooling the resources of different member states to address a particular environmental concern and driving environmental / business innovation across the EU. Membership of the EU has also strengthened UK diplomatic efforts in international negotiations such as recently at the climate change summit in Paris.

“Should the UK leave the EU, the government should ensure that the UK continues to abide by environmental standards of at least a similar threshold to those contained in existing European legislation and applied across the Single Market.  This is particularly the case in key areas such as product efficiency, fuel efficiency, industrial pollution and climate change. However, no clarity has been provided to date as to how this would be done and how the future development of these standards and legislation could still be influenced by the UK in the event that it was no longer part of the EU.”

David Palmer-Jones, chief executive, SUEZ 

“Leaving the EU would be detrimental to the environmental services sector because the EU is the driving force behind much of the environmental policy and legislation which enables companies like SUEZ to invest in new services and infrastructure.

“We anticipate that a Brexit would also trigger a re-evaluation of major infrastructure investments across the industry, from waste and recycling to resource management and energy recovery projects. In total there is the potential to create thousands of new jobs should we move the UK more fully from a throw-away society to a recycle, re-use and recovery based economy in a way that is currently envisaged under the latest EU-led policy drivers.

“We are concerned that a Brexit may disengage the UK from an EU-led vision towards an even greater amount of recycling and our move towards a fully circular economy. It is largely thanks to UK membership of the EU that SUEZ is so transformed in the UK.”

Brexit: What YOU have to say…

So… What do you think? Is the EU willing and able to accommodate our interests on the transition to the green economy? Does the UK’s future look “brighter” outside of the EU, as Andrea Leadsom claims? Or would a British exit from the European Union be a “mistake for sustainability”, as Forum for the Future’s James Goodman puts it? 

Cast your vote in our readers’ poll and let us know your thoughts about this in the comments section below.

Matt Mace & Luke Nicholls

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