This last week has been a milestone in British history. After three months of campaigning, the British public finally lined up outside polling stations and crossed a box on ballot papers to have their voices heard (the first time, for many).
After a tense night of vote counting and fancy graphics among news channels trying to deliver information and poll numbers to an anxious public, the result was “Brexit” -- a decision to leave the European Union after 43 years of membership.
No doubt the shock has been felt around the globe, with markets and stocks tumbling to near record lows (as did the spirits of those in the “Remain in EU Camp”). As the days followed, the sheer scale of the task at hand slowly became apparent. The UK-EU relationship, albeit not perfect, was one that affected almost all aspects of each others’ legal, political and social cultures.
In the international forum, many treaties and agreements are negotiated, signed and implemented, with the UK and EU speaking and acting as one. Among many such agreements, the most recent one significant to climate change was the Paris Agreement agreed on last December, where the UK was seen as a decisive and leading figure in the negotiations that led to the first legally binding agreement to curb carbon emissions by all 196 Nations that were present.
The importance of such an agreement, especially with climate impacts becoming more severe and frequent, is not one to be taken lightly.
Even before Paris, the UK was one of the strongest voices within EU, pushing for legislation and policies for environmental protections and a strong ally for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), such as Bangladesh, in addressing the impacts of climate change.
Unfortunately, it seems every day, the uncertainties and daunting negative impacts of how a “Brexit” would finally play out, seems to be rising.
With the resignation of current Prime Minister David Cameron, the task of formally negotiating and agreeing on a deal to step out of the EU seems to be pushed ever further and onto the next leader of the party.
Without a clear leadership in this situation, it is difficult for everyone to understand: Is the UK still part of the Paris Agreement? Will the new government still be as environmentally focused? Will the UK reduce its carbon emission targets? Such uncertainties have already shaken investors and the longer the timeframe for clear policies and business incentives, the worse it may get for supporters of the Paris agreement and the scores of British businesses that depended on a UK-EU relationship.
What happens now?
In the short term, the UK and EU need to decide on what the terms of their divorce will be. Once the UK has formally submitted its resignation from the EU, it has a period of two years to formalise these terms and conditions.
This is a complicated and controversial process, which will range from matters of Trade, Security, Environment, Energy, Freedom of (peoples) movement and many others.
The carbon emission targets, submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), will most likely be re-calculated, for both the UK and EU. This may be more complicated than simply subtracting one set of targets from another, as many factors are likely to change due to the divorce of the union.
The reduction (or not) of targets may be a boost to investors looking to get in on cheaper “green” projects and prove their environmental credentials.
However, the uncertainty of leading government party and leader oF the party (the new prime minister), will prove to be a setback for any potentially interested customers.
Hope amidst uncertainty
The British public have often shown their enthusiasm and civil engagement on environmental issues, from thousands of protestors marching on streets and demanding that politicians keep climate change on their agenda to contacting their local MPs and highlighting the urgent support needed for vulnerable countries and help the poorest at risk from climate change.
In this case of a Brexit, the public and environmental groups are sure to hold the government accountable and push the country to be as ambitious and progressive as possible on climate change issues. Without the fall back of EU directives and laws on environmental concerns, activists and environmentalists seem to be gearing up for a hard fight to come.
They have some powerful friends though. Among them is the newly elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who wants to “make London one of the world’s greenest cities” and eventually zero-carbon.
His environmental plans include strong initiatives to reduce air pollution levels by introducing “green buses” and more electric vehicles, plant more trees and increase green spaces around the city and to use public land for solar and renewable energy systems to boost the city’s energy supply while reducing emissions.
The city has a diverse economy and is home to many environmentally focused and “pro-green” industries. Businesses ranging from hi-tech, smart, energy efficient technologies to policy and scientific research think-tanks to “green banking” and financial services companies have helped to make the UK a vibrant and active member in the fight against climate change.
Mayor Khan has come out to assure investors (of all kinds) that London is still a good choice for businesses and that his Green Revolution is the right direction.
Among the rising surge of renewable energy initiatives across the UK and with a strong political figure (such as the Mayor), the public are sure to have a robust case to hold any future government of the UK to keep their climate change targets.
More and more, from around the world, we see the engagement and activism of the citizens of nations to urge their leaders and governments into strong action on climate change and environmental concerns.
From the formation of community groups to rallies and marches, numbers from hundreds to hundreds of thousands have joined together to show their leaders that the impacts of a changing climate are a major issue and in need of urgent action.
It seems the tasks for the citizens of the UK are no different and they should show their leaders the way through this uncertain period.