In a post-Brexit world, Britain can still lead the way towards a low carbon future

Wind Farm Yorkshire

Grantham Institute Head of Policy Alyssa Gilbert on why there’s no time like the present when it comes to seizing the economic and environmental opportunity offered by a low carbon vision of the future.

Britain, Britain, Britain. The recent referendum has left many people in the UK, and indeed, in the rest of the European Union, quite shaken. The full spectrum of views, and therefore needs, of the British population has become much more apparent and our government needs to understand and respond to these views as soon as possible.

In the meantime, it is important to step back from the current political turmoil and uncertainty, and reiterate the potential for Britain to be a leading low-carbon economy. Everybody in the UK deserves clean energy and a better quality of life, and Brexit shouldn’t change that. That means we now have two transitions to consider – a change in our relationship with the others in the European Union in the short to medium term, and a gradual transition to a lower-carbon world .

Time for action

Yesterday, speaking at the Business and Climate Summit in London, Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, stated clearly that the UK remains strongly committed to tackling climate change and delivering the people a clean and reliable energy system. The UK government, taking the cue from the population,  that considers the long-term impact of our actions on the climate and makes provisions for a steady and considered approach to reducing the threat of climate change.

In a way, Rudd stated the obvious. Climate change has not been downgraded as a threat simply because of a national vote. The natural world that we live in cares nothing for our political structures, but could suffer severely from our inaction.

Now, more than ever, is the time to grasp the economic and environmental opportunity that stands before us. Here in the UK we have the skills, engineering heritage, financial sector strength, professional services and trade relationships to be at the leading edge of the transition to a low carbon future.  Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Laying the foundations for a better life

What does such economic opportunity look like? It looks like the Nissan electric car factory in Sunderland and the Siemens wind turbine manufacturing hub in Hull. It looks like the progressive buildings sector. It looks like the globally recognised environmental consultancy services based around the country, and servicing markets across the developed and developing world. It looks like the emerging green bond market, and Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) investors.

The economic growth potential for these industries is great, but these goods and services can, and should, be deployed on home soil, to reduce our impact on the environment and improve the quality of life for everyone who lives in the UK.

To do so effectively, our government needs to make sensible long-term decisions about investment in smart energy infrastructure and set standards to encourage energy efficiency and green buildings. Businesses need to see appropriate support for deployment of technologies on the cusp of success, whilst government supports the development of nascent innovations and discoveries into fledgling start-ups and larger businesses.

Today’s decision to adopt the fifth carbon budget, setting long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2028-2032 is fantastic news and provides the essential foundation for necessary action on climate change.

It is our responsibility to build this vision of Britain together, engaging with our neighbours, our friends, and understanding the potential that there is to get this double transition right.


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