If The U.K. Left The EU, What Would It Take The Country To Reach Net-Zero Emissions?

On 31 January, the U.K. officially left the European Union, making it the first country in the history of the organization to leave. However, both the EU and the U.K. would continue the talks to settle a trade deal and the future relationship of both. Therefore, Britain would still work under the EU´s laws and trading deal, for the upcoming 11 months -until 31 December 2020- while a settlement is decided. This 2020 is not only crucial to the U.K.´s future economy, but it would also be decisive on climate change. Glasgow would host the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 26, in November of 2020 to promote and increase the effort globally to tackle environmental change.

The location chose to host this debate was no surprise, since Scotland has been a leader in climate action and Glasgow one of the most sustainable cities globally. Indeed, the U.K. was the first country to pass laws to undertake the climate crisis, passing a bill where the U.K. commits to reduce its greenhouse emissions to net-zero by 2050. How would Britain achieve this goal after Brexit?

According to a Greenpeace article by Helle Abelvik-Lawson, U.K. leaving the EU could be worrying in terms of climate change since the union is one of the biggest organizations that ensures protection for wildlife and habitats through laws against “water pollution, air pollution, and hazardous chemicals”. Thinking positively, this is an exceptional opportunity for the country to create its own rules and do better than the EU in terms of sustainability laws, especially when it comes to laws on farming and fishing.

To reach the net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, not only the farming industry, coal and fracking laws need reconstruction, but also the lives of citizens in Britain must change. From the food, they consume how they get around to the building of housing and much more. One of the government´s strategies is to reduce notoriously the use of coal and provide more sources of renewable energy. For example, the Onshore wind is currently one of the cheapest forms of energy in England and by April 2019, the solar installations increased by 94%, according to The Guardian. In the past decades, the use of gas instead of coal has been a practice widely used in the U.K. However, to reach net-zero emissions that should go away. Indeed, President Boris Johnson announced on 20 January, that Britain will stop funding coal mine extraction on foreign countries to an audience of African leaders in the U.K.-Africa investment summit. Yet, Johnson said to the leaders they will continue to fund fracking which environmentalists and members of Greenpeace have criticized.

Other areas where the government is devoting special attention are building and farming and fishing laws. It has been estimated that 40% of the carbon footprint in the U.K. comes from the housing. In 2015 some resolutions were made by the government regarding a few requirements for more new-homes to incorporate more energy-saving features, as well as, renewable energy functions. The architect Juliet Barfield said to the Guardian that “The government must regulate if we want to bring down emissions.” It becomes a hard task when it comes to the materials used to build homes since the most common and cheap is the concrete and its emissions are extremely contaminant for the environment.

Furthermore, as the construction laws need a more environmental structure, the farming laws need to be restructured as well for the lands to heal from the damage due to industrial agriculture. One of the key strategies of the government on land use has been planting more trees and soil management. Greenpeace suggests, that “less land should be used to graze and grow crops for animals so more land can go back to woodland and other wildlife-rich habitats. And around seven hundred million trees need to be planted in the next 10 years to help soak up carbon already in the atmosphere.” England is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, this is why planting trees should not only be used in rural areas but also in the city to help clean the air and reduce the carbon emissions, which would also contribute to the population´s health.

It is critical that in 2020, England focuses on planning its new relationship with the EU, and that all the future laws are not only settled to improve the economy but, help tackle climate change and how to heal the environment. To achieve its net-zero emissions goal, Britan should hold talks with everybody; not only leaders of other countries and the UN, but also with farmers, industries, environmentalists, miners, and more, to find common ground and solutions, to all the future challenges.