Could Brexit sink the global climate accord?

Climate scientists and advocates are worried that Britain's exit from the Eurpean Union will complicate the process of ratifying the Paris Agreement and may install a government that will roll back crucial environmental policies and regulations.

Toby Melville/Reuters
A British flag flies next to the flag of the European Union in Westminster, London, Britain June 24. Following Britain's vote to leave the European Union, climate scientists are worried the move will slow the fight against climate change.

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."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Could Brexit sink the global climate accord?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today