Michael Liebreich downplays impact of Brexit on clean energy investment

EXCLUSIVE: The upcoming EU referendum will have less of an impact on UK clean energy investment than feared, and domestic environmental policy will not suffer at the hands of a 'Brexit', the chairman of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) has claimed.

With a report from EY today (10 May) noting that the potential of an exit from the EU is creating concerns over the risk profile of UK investments in renewables, Liebreich said it is “convenient” to use the 23 June referendum as a reason for investor uncertainty which has already been impacted by a lack of clarity over energy policy.

“It’s convenient to say it’s Brexit,” Liebreich told edie at an event in London last night. “There’s actually a lot of factors at play – there’s a period of recalibrating all of the UK’s renewable energy support mechanisms.

“You can say [the UK’s renewable energy market is] unattractive because of the uncertainty over Hinkley, fracking or natural gas. Are we going to continue with oil or gas? It would be nice to have the answer to lots of things.”

‘Europe-wide failure’

Speaking to edie following a panel discussion on the environmental implications of the referendum, Liebreich – who also serves as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Sustainable Energy – said the UK would be “fine” regardless of the outcome of the vote, explaining that “neither Europe nor the UK is so economically robust that we’d want to engage in tit for tat”.  

The BNEF chairman added that a lack of financial support for clean energy projects was a “Europe-wide failure” rather than being specific to the UK, highlighting the “very damaging” effects of short-term interventions on the continent’s energy markets.

“Look at Germany which is ‘energiewende’ central. Investment in clean energy has dropped and nobody knows quite how to reinvigorate it. In Spain, renewable energy has flatlined; Italy has flatlined, and France has never really ignited.

“So, I suspect that, whatever the outcome is on 23 June, we’ll probably see a reduction of uncertainty shortly afterwards… but there are so many other factors that play into this that I wouldn’t overplay the whole Brexit story.”

During last night’s panel discussion, hosted by The Crowd, Liebreich asserted that he wanted to “challenge the notion that all good environmental things come from the EU”, criticising some areas of EU environmental policy as cumbersome and compromising on the UK’s green strategy.

His sentiments were echoed on the panel by Conservative Peer Lord Callanan, who labelled both the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy as “environmental disasters”, before lambasting the “madness” of the UK Climate Change Act.

‘Race to the bottom’

Liebreich and Callanan were counteracted by ‘remain’ campaigners, Professor Paul Ekins OBE and Green MP Caroline Lucas, with the latter reiterating comments made at a recent EU debate that Brexit would be a frightening prospect for Britain’s environment.

Lucas – who has already told edie that Brexit would be a “frightening” prospect for the UK’s environment – said in last night’s debate: “The EU offers a crucial level playing field on minimal environmental regulation to prevent a certain race to the bottom, when Member States seek to gain a competitive advantage by destroying the natural environment.”

This viewpoint was shared by Ekins, who insisted that the UK could “harmonise” the environmental performance of goods through common efficiency standards, so long as it remains a member of the Union. Watch part of the debate as it happened in the video below.

Video: The impact of Brexit on UK environment

The debate finished with a poll asking the audience to choose their preferred option on EU membership, with 86% of the audience 86% claiming they will vote for Britain to remain in Europe, with 9% representing the ‘leave’ camp and 5% still undecided.

Brexit: What YOU have to say…

edie readers have also been quizzed on their stance on Britain’s EU membership, with the overwhelming majority of sustainability professionals and green groups agreeing that remaining in the EU is crucial for our transition to a low-carbon future.

Cast your own vote and let us know your thoughts about this in the comments section below.

George Ogleby

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