Following Britain's 52 percent to 48 percent vote to leave the European Union, climate scientists and activists are expressing concerns that the decision to leave the EU could have potentially disastrous effects on the nation's climate policy.
Climate scientists and activists say Brexit will complicate the ratification process of the newly ratified Paris Agreement. It also may have longer-term implications, as the new government installed after Brexit will likely try to roll back environmental regulations and not prioritize addressing climate change.
The immediate effect of Brexit on climate change, as Grist reported, could be positive. An economic slowdown would cause a drop in Britain's carbon emissions, as emissions fell worldwide by 1.5 percent during the 2008 recession.
However, Britain's future participation in the Paris Agreement is now in question, as the Guardian reported. As the EU submitted a plan as a 28-member bloc in Paris, Brexit requires a "recalibration" of the agreement, as Christiana Figueres, the chief of the United Nations climate secretariat, cautioned before the vote.
That recalibration could effectively weaken the European Union's commitment and focus on addressing climate change, Guy Edwards, co-director of the Climate and Development Lab at Brown University in Providence, R.I., wrote in an opinion piece published by The Boston Globe.
"Achieving global prosperity especially for the most vulnerable and poorest depends in large measure on whether the Paris Agreement succeeds or not," he wrote. "Brexit would make realizing that goal significantly tougher."
Mr. Edwards wrote that Brexit threatens the international cooperation which is essential in fighting climate change.
Myles Allen of the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute told National Geographic Brexit could lead to a "brain-drain" of scientists, as the loss of free movement through the EU would lead scientists to lose their ability to move freely through European and lose their status in the UK.
“My main concern in the big picture is potential damage to the U.K.’s reputation as a destination for top-flight researchers,” he wrote. “Researchers put a lot of emphasis on the ability to recruit and ability to travel, and if these changes affect our ability to recruit the best and brightest of the world’s academics, then we’re in trouble.”
Advocates also worry that Brexit will give increased political power to those who deny mainstream climate science. Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, a major proponent of Brexit and an early favorite to be elected as the next prime minister, worked with other mayors to fight climate change, but also has questioned whether humanity's carbon dioxide emissions actually influence global temperatures. Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party and another main advocate for the leave campaign, is a climate denier who wants to abolish Britain's Department for Energy and Climate Change.
England's pro-Brexit farming minister, George Eustice, told the Guardian that Britain would be free from EU environmental directives after leaving the EU, and a £2–billion green dividend could be redirected to insurance schemes and incentives for farmers. He said Britain would no longer follow the EU's birds and habitats directive, which he said is "so so rigid that it is spirit-crushing."
“If we had more flexibility, we could focus our scientists’ energies on coming up with new, interesting ways to protect the environment, rather than just producing voluminous documents from Brussels,” he said.
But environment minister Rory Stewart said the EU was crucial to the Britain's environmental success, as European action limited the impact of acid rain on Britain's forests, and improved more than 9,000 miles of rivers since 2010, making Britain's water environment the healthiest it had been in 25 years.
Stanley Johnson, an original author of the EU's climate regulation and co-chair of Environmentalists for Europe, said addressing climate change would fall the bottom of the priority list.
"I am absolutely shocked and horrified at what looks like a no-holds-barred attack by the Brexiteers on an agreed consensus that the environment benefits from a common approach," he said. "Don’t tell me that a new Brexit-led British government is going to put environmental regulations at top of its pile on June 24. It is not going to happen."