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Implications of the vote to leave the EU

As a current member of the European Union (EU), the UK participates in EU action to tackle climate change. These include targets on emissions, efficiency and renewable energy.

Leaving the EU would change how UK carbon budgets are delivered: where policies previously agreed at EU level no longer apply or are weakened, new UK policies will need to replace them. But it does not change the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the level of carbon budgets (which are set in UK law), or the duty on the Government to act to tackle climate change.

In October 2016 the Committee published a briefing on the implications of the vote to leave the EU on UK carbon budgets. The main findings are that:

  1. The UK’s climate goals have not changed. The UK’s 2050 target and legislated carbon budgets (including the fifth carbon budget set in July 2016) remain appropriate as part of a UK contribution to global efforts to tackle climate change, including the Paris Agreement.
  2. Existing UK commitments need strong new policies that set a clearer direction across the economy, irrespective of Brexit. The Government’s plan to meet carbon budgets must be able to meet them whatever the circumstances as the UK leaves the EU.
  3. Some policy previously set at EU level should be preserved and strengthened in future.
  • The UK, alongside other Member States, has played a key role in developing EU-level mechanisms to control emissions in some areas, particularly where it makes sense to take a coordinated approach (e.g. because the relevant market is EU-wide).
  • If these mechanisms continue to be strengthened through the 2020s as required by the EU’s climate ambition they would cover 55% of the emissions reduction required in the UK to 2030.
  • In areas where these EU-level mechanisms are working effectively, or could with suitable reform, the UK should either remain in these schemes (where coordination continues to make sense) or replicate them at UK level. These include product and efficiency standards (e.g. for fuel efficiency of cars and energy efficiency of consumer goods), the EU Emissions Trading System, rules for trading of electricity, and research collaboration and innovation funding.
  1. The UK should take opportunities to improve on some EU policy approaches. For example, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP does not directly target greenhouse gas emissions reduction in agriculture although it provides funding for afforestation, which can reduce emissions. A UK-based policy framework should link farming support more closely to actions that would reduce emissions.

The Committee also noted that, after leaving, the UK may need to submit a national pledge of effort to the UN climate process, which could be based on legislated carbon budgets. Meeting the UK’s existing targets will be a positive contribution to global climate action.

The Committee will continue to monitor developments on Brexit and the implications for carbon budgets, particularly in the context of our annual progress reports to Parliament.