There’s silver lining in Brexit for the EU’s climate and energy plans

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

France has received funding for three energy projects linked to the energy transition. [Steve Jurvetson/Flickr]

A lot of good can come out of the Brexit vote if the European Commission makes it 100% clear that continued action on climate change and energy savings are crucial issues which transcend politics and pro- or anti-EU sentiment, writes Brook Riley.

Brook Riley is climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’. The ground is still shaking after Brexit but President Juncker has told Commission staff to continue work as if nothing has changed.

The Commission is sticking to its July 20 July deadline for releasing the effort sharing decision proposal (its plans for sharing out the 40% by 2030 greenhouse gas target among the 28 (?) member states). It will also revise the 2030 energy efficiency target as planned after the summer.

As a Brit, I suppose I am thinking far too much about the impacts of Brexit. Part of me selfishly believes it just has to change the legislative timetable. But is the Commission thinking enough? It is all to its credit that it is pushing ahead with legislation – climate change won’t pause until the UK makes up its mind on Article 50.

However, I worry Juncker’s carry-on-regardless attitude will provide ammunition to those who say the EU is out of touch with citizens and disconnected from the world outside the Brussels bubble.

This has to be prevented. We need EU-level action. We need robust policies – not the posturing and profiteering going on across the Channel. We also need to see a human touch (for lack of a better expression) yet in Juncker we have a man who feels obliged to deny he is a robot.

My point is that the Commission – and the European Parliament and Council – must demonstrate it is learning from Brexit. Many people voted to leave the EU because they have been ground down by decades of austerity and what they perceive as elitist policymaking. There are millions more like them across Europe. Their concerns need to be addressed.

Therefore if the Commission goes ahead with planned legislation, it needs to make it 100% clear that climate action and energy savings are crucial issues which transcend politics and pro or anti-EU sentiment (don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming these are silver bullet solutions for all Europe’s problems; but they will help). At the same time, it needs to communicate the benefits in much more personal, human and social terms.

For every 1% improvement in energy efficiency, 3 million more homes can be properly renovated, 7 million people lifted out of energy poverty. For every extra 1%, gas imports fall by 2.6%. These are more than just numbers. They are the key to a better life for tens of millions of people which the Commission is morally obliged to deliver. It’s good practical politics too: Juncker and his Commissioners have to demonstrate their added value if they don’t want to be side-lined in post Brexit recriminations.

However, I suspect this attitude won’t come easily to the many decision makers who seem almost callously indifferent to most Europeans’ needs. Take the TTIP negotiations. New leaked documents show that the US and EU are considering replacing ‘mandatory requirements of energy efficiency’ with ‘industry self-regulation’. This would allow industry to flood the market with cheap-to-build but expensive-to-run fridges, TVs and washing machines – good news for companies’ profit margins but disastrous for consumers and especially for low income households (many of whom voted for Brexit).

This brand of ‘policymaking’ must be taboo. The architects of EU legislation have to realise – or be forced to realise – that it is political suicide. If so, a lot of good could come out of the Brexit vote.

Plenty of officials in the European institutions want tougher action on climate change and higher ambition for energy efficiency and renewables, but they lack the means to enforce it.

By championing the benefits, by putting people first, I believe they can get the leverage they need. It would be just part of the solution of a much bigger problem, but it would be real leadership. That’s what the EU is supposed to be all about.

There’s silver lining in Brexit if Juncker can only see it.

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