The UK vote’s implications for EU climate policy

The vote by the UK electorate to leave the EU has a number of important medium-term implications for EU climate policy.

The timing could not be worse. The EU is just at the beginning of a two-year process that will see it legislating its 2030 climate and energy package.

Legislation on the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS), renewables and energy efficiency targets, transport emissions, and emissions reductions in non-ETS sectors (known as the effort-sharing decision) are all scheduled to be looked at over the next two years.

The UK will hold the rotating presidency of the EU in the second half of 2017, when the effort-sharing decision, and the renewables and energy efficiency legislation are in final talks.

A strong presidency is key to getting laws passed, and the UK will have a diluted interest and a diluted mandate to do so following the vote yesterday.

The danger is that laws with weaker climate ambition are passed, and passed more slowly.

The template for all those laws was the EU Council conclusions of October 2014. Those conclusions were set to guide the European Commission as it crafted the initial proposals for all the laws brought forward as part of the 2030 package.

The conclusions were a delicate balancing act designed to satisfy all member states, including specific provisions demanded by the UK. But, following the vote, that template is no longer carved in stone as it seemed to be.

Some member states, especially those in eastern Europe, may claim that the 2014 conclusions no longer carry the weight they once did.

Negotiations in the council over all laws will now be more fraught, and more open to dissent from outlier member states, even though the UK will maintain a representation for at least two years after invoking Article 50 to leave the EU.

This will be also become a longer term issue in the council after a UK departure. The UK is an influential member of the Green Growth Group, a negotiating coalition in the council that tended to push for greater ambition in climate laws. Its departure will weaken that group and its influence within the council.

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