With a referendum on Europe set for 23 June 2016, most green economy advocates have put their weight behind the ‘In’ campaign over concerns that an exit could weaken environmental legislation.
As environmental problems such as climate change, resource management and air and water pollution are cross-border issues, many business and political leaders remain convinced that the best way to tackle them is through collaboration and joint policy-making.
The EU has been one of the more progressive actors on the world stage in developing environmental legislation, particularly on climate change, and currently provides the foundation for UK policy in areas such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, product standards, recycling and waste management and pollution, among others.
In the case of an EU exit, there are fears that many of the government schemes supporting business activity in these areas could be destabilised.
A report from the Cabinet Office on the legal process of leaving the EU has revealed that several commitments currently delivered through EU legislation would have to go through a lengthy renegotiation process.
It is also unclear how or to what extent the UK would replace the billions of pounds of investment in green business currently delivered through the European Investment Bank and innovation schemes such as Horizon 2020.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of infrastructure giant, SUEZ, said: “The EU is the driving force behind much of the environmental policy and legislation which enables companies like SUEZ to invest in new services and infrastructure.
“There is the potential to create thousands of new jobs should we move the UK more fully from a throw-away society to a recycle, re-use and recovery-based economy in a way that is currently envisaged under the latest EU-led policy drivers.”
Several high-profile government ministers responsible for the UK’s environmental policies are supporting the ‘In’ campaign, including energy and climate change secretary, Amber Rudd, environment secretary, Liz Truss, and energy minister, Matthew Hancock.
However, there are also some high-profile ‘Brexiters’, including leading green conservative and London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith.
Opponents believe that a transition to a low carbon economy would continue at a similar rate regardless of EU membership, and that some EU legislation is actually holding the UK back.
For example, in 2015 Brussels ruled that the UK’s lower VAT rate for environmental technologies such as solar panels is in breach of EU law and should be removed.
Independent national commitments will also be unaffected by an exit. These include the Climate Change Act 2008, which requires UK government to meet regular carbon budgets towards an end goal of cutting emissions by 80 per cent on 1990 levels by 2050.
Speaking to BusinessGreen, Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “Out or in, frankly most of the trajectories for the things that we are working on are pretty similar. So it’s inconceivable that we would be out of the EU and not have a pretty aggressive strategy on carbon emissions.”