climate change

Opinion: The overwhelming environmental reasons for staying in the EU

Were the UK to leave the EU they could be back to being the dirty man of Europe. On the picture the Drax power plant. Photo credit: Jonathan Brennan via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen
In just over two weeks time, the UK public will vote in a referendum deciding their membership of the European Union with much at stake, not least around the area of climate change.
While polling confirms that the Remain campaign is just ahead, it is going to be a tight race, where on the day, everything can happen. If you, like I, think that climate change is the worst global threat we face, there is really only one option and that is to stay in the EU. While the organisation is not perfect, what it has done to combat climate change and protect the environment is very evident. And without the EU, we would be much further behind in our efforts to tackle climate change and environmental regulation in that area. And without the EU there is no doubt that individual countries would not have done as much as they have been required to under EU membership law, for instance concerning emission reduction and renewable energy installation targets.
Up until recently, when putting forward new climate goals and laws, the EU was in the leading pack. But this position has now been taken over by China and USA, who in recent years have upped their games in tackling climate change. After all, China and US are the world’s two largest emitters. For years, while their emissions rapidly piled up, action was nowhere to be seen. In that period, the EU was firmly in position as a leader in addressing climate change setting for at the time, ambitious climate change goals.

In the UK it is the EU’s leadership that has prompted strong climate change policies. These policies include the legally binding climate change act, the carbon price floor and strong renewable energy targets; and not least, a rapid move away from coal. And around issues such as air pollution, it is the EU that challenges the UK government when they don’t do enough. Without the EU there would be no one to hold the UK government to account on this important health and environment issue.
So who wants us to leave the EU? It is no surprise that the people who would want to see the UK leave Europe, also want the UK to do a lot less on climate change. This includes former chancellor Lord Lawson, founder of the climate skeptic think tank, The Global Warming Foundation. Therefore, if you want evidence why we need the EU to tackle climate change, look no further than to the political positions of some of those individuals who aggressively advocate that we leave the EU.

But unfortunately, on the Leave side, there are also people who want us to leave, because they claim that we would be better placed outside the EU to tackle climate change and move towards a greener economy.

With all due respect, they could not be more wrong. They’re entirely focused on the things that the EU are doing wrong, and they fail to see what the UK will look like outside the EU. And for me, the evidence is pretty clear. Outside the EU, the UK would become the dirty man of Europe. Some Brexit campaigners rightfully point to the dangers and the flaws of The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). And there is no doubt, that was it to go through, it would be a disaster for the environment. But here is a point to be made. If it were to be adopted, and that is a big if considering the level of opposition to TTIP from many EU member countries, then the UK would likely be included, whether UK was in the EU or not. The suggestion that the UK would be immune to TTIP if they were to leave the EU is a fallacy.
And fundamentally, the referendum stretches much further than just the UK. There are good reasons to suspect that if the UK were to leave, the European project would be at great risk. This would not only send a shockwave through EU member states, but it could also trigger a set of referendums in other EU-skeptic member states who are closely watching the UK referendum.

Research and data suggest that there is a large group of undecided voters who bemoan propaganda statements from both sides. They’re right. A lot of the arguments put forward have been based on scaremongering tactics from both sides.
And, regrettably, the Leave side have focused heavily on immigration issues . They have produced a lot of false stats. They have reduced the argument to narrow issues . And we Remainers have not highlighted the EU’s role in fighting climate change nearly as much as we should. Indeed, some mainstream Remainers have almost forgotten this issue. We have had to rely on Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, or conservative environmentalist, Stanley Johnson, to factor in climate change and environmental debate to the campaign.
There is a strong feeling among mainstream politicians that environmental issues are too narrow, and therefore, they bang on and on about the economy. But perhaps among that large pool of undecided voters, there are people who do actually care about climate change, and who would like campaigners to highlight it. It is an important message to speak out on .
And it is vital that the huge sway of undecided voters learn that if you care about tackling climate change, there is only one option and that is to remain in the EU. This does not mean however that we should not work to reform the EU in the right direction. The EU can and should become an even stronger force in tackling the broad range of environmental problems we face.

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