With Boris Johnson stepping in as Prime Minister, the race against the clock to find a Brexit deal is on. The UK has until October 31st to leave the European Union — deal or no deal. But since Johnson might pursue a hard Brexit, the UK may cut all ties with the EU, including its environmental policies. So what exactly does a hard Brexit mean for the UK’s approach to sustainability? And how else will Boris Johnson change the UK’s environmental future?
In Leaving the EU, Boris Johnson Will Also Leave Its Environmental Pacts Behind
As a member of the EU, the UK has signed onto many international environmental agreements. Two of the most significant agreements are the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement. When the UK signed the Kyoto Protocol, it pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And under the Paris Agreement, the UK agreed to set its own goals to reduce future emissions. These two agreements encourage countries to work together to fight climate change.
But under Boris Johnson, the UK might withdraw from these agreements. Although a hard Brexit is not guaranteed, it seems imminent. 85% of Boris Johnson’s supporters want a no-deal Brexit, a percentage so high that Johnson probably won’t dare to disobey them. If a hard Brexit happens, the UK will have no trade, political, or environmental agreements with the EU. It won’t even be a part of the European Economic Area. Without any ties to the EU, the UK will have no need to agree to EU politics. So, without the EU forcing the UK to participate in environmental agreements, Johnson and the majority conservative Parliament may choose to withdraw from them.
Why Boris Johnson Will Probably Choose to Withdraw from Environmental Agreements
This possibility of withdrawal seems likely. Johnson is a known ally of US President Donald Trump, who plans to formally withdraw from the Paris Agreement in November. Johnson may choose to follow Trump’s footsteps and abandon these international efforts to fight climate change. To make matters worse, 27% of the Conservative Party that voted for Johnson wants less emphasis on climate change.
Moreover, Johnson’s history in environmental policy is hardly promising. As the UK’s foreign secretary, Johnson “oversaw ‘devastating’ cuts in efforts to tackle the climate crisis … and then wanted to hush them up.” And as Mayor of London, he reduced the “congestion zone” — the area of London you must pay to drive through — which helped limit fuel emissions. His voting record as an MP also shows a lack of concern for environmental protection. In 2016, he voted against requiring the energy industry to plan carbon capture and storage.
He also voted against creating a decarbonization target for the UK. Considering these past actions, it’s more than likely that Boris Johnson’s UK will no longer cooperate with international environmental agreements.
And with the Conservative Party holding a majority in Parliament, environmental action groups like Greenpeace UK and Great British Oceans have very little political influence. Even the elected Green Party holds only a handful of seats in Parliament. Since his opposition has little political power, Boris Johnson has enough free reign to do as he pleases.
The UK’s Environmental Future is Uncertain
The UK’s future for sustainability and environmental protection isn’t all grim. Just last month, the UK signed legislation into law requiring all carbon emissions to hit net zero by 2050.
But this is a pretty hefty task. And by leaving the EU, the consequences of slipping up will become less severe. To complicate achieving this goal even more, Johnson supports deregulation and small government. This raises the question of how the UK will manage to cut its carbon emissions without much governmental support.
To add to this uncertainty, last year Johnson claimed that any Brexit deal — if one were to even happen — should allow the UK the freedom to alter existing standards and legislation. Therefore, even if the UK reaches a Brexit deal, Johnson will insist on having the power to reduce the UK’s environmental standards.
It’s too early to say how the UK will move forward in terms of its environmental policy. But as it approaches multiple political crossroads, time is running out. Once Boris Johnson solidifies Brexit, the British government will have less incentive to cooperate with other countries on environmental fronts. If the UK can force itself to uphold environmental protections without international support, that’d be quite the feat. But the ball is in Boris Johnson’s court, and he may be playing for the other team.