The green economy's long term future is assured, but the short term challenges presented by Brexit will be immense
I was not supposed to be working today. One of the many upsides of the European Union is that it helped usher in the concept of shared parental rights, and as such Friday is my day for looking after our son. But the boy is currently enjoying his nap, blissfully unaware of the political and economic turmoil that has just been unleashed.
In the wake of seismic events - and it is not hyperbolic to say this is the biggest political event of our lifetimes - people always ask what does this mean?
But the simple answer to this question is 'we don't know'. The vote may have been decisive, but the next few months will be anything but. The Prime Minister is to step down, speculation is mounting about a Labour coup, the pound is through the floor, and the markets are in flux, the SNP will be understandably restive. The experts were right, in the short term at least. Everywhere, chaos. We now wait to see if they were right in the long term as well.
The problem with the referendum campaign throughout is that unlike the Scottish referendum there was never a prospectus for leaving. All the different stripes of Brexiteer will now seek to interpret the vote as a mandate for their particular world view.
Climate sceptics will see it as a major leap towards repealing the Climate Change Act and burning more coal. Owen Paterson will likely be keen to deliver on his proposal to shelve the precautionary principle and reinstate pesticides that some fear are wiping out bees. The small band of 'Green Leavers' will hope for more ambitious clean energy policies free from Brussels constraints. Some want to leave the EU altogether, others will want to remain in the economic area and create a non-EU northern European powerhouse alongside Norway. Some want more immigration, some want less. But there is no mandate for any of this, the only mandate is for leaving the EU - an election is likely to be required. Which, of course, means yet more uncertainty.
Businesses and investors hate uncertainty and there is no doubt the economy, and of course the green economy, will be hit in the short to medium term.
The risk of a climate sceptic or climate indifferent government adds to these woes. David Cameron will be remembered for his EU miscalculation and many within the green economy have long despaired of his reluctance to provide more full throttle backing to the decarbonisation agenda. But he is also the prime minister who delivered record emissions reductions and record levels of green investment (with some Lib Dem help). He understood the need to act on climate change, and he tried, not always successfully, to bring his party with him.
What does all this mean? Again, no one knows. But the green economy and the environmental movement are inherently optimistic in their outlook. There are silver linings to grasp, or straws to clutch at.
Firstly, there is nothing inevitable about Brexit resulting in the UK becoming an isolated pollutocrat, offshore tax haven, that quickly reclaims its crown as the dirty man of Europe. The fight continues for more effective climate, clean energy, air pollution, biodiversity, circular economy and green growth policies. The government could keep the best parts of EU environmental policy and then improve upon it. If the green economy's arguments and influence is strong enough this remains possible.
This fight already enjoys a strong beach-head. The Climate Change Act remains, the UK is a signatory to the Paris Agreement, a clear majority in parliament supports climate action. The green economy is a multi-billion dollar enterprise with major industry backing from the automotive, energy, and manufacturing sectors. Any new government will have to take it seriously.
Moreover, the influence of policy, while important, is easy to overstate. Clean technologies are increasingly cost competitive without much policy support. They are becoming dominant worldwide. The UK will be part of this global decarbonisation trend, regardless of our relationship with the EU. People will still need energy, transport, housing and other infrastructure. Poll after poll shows most people want that infrastructure to be as clean as possible.
We are experiencing the most exciting industrial revolution in history with the goal of fully decarbonising the global economy within the lifetime of the young man who is currently still napping in the other room. Against that global trend, that investment opportunity, and the climate risks that drive it, Brexit should be a sideshow.
Of course, there is another terrifying route forward. One dominated by post-truth demagoguery, narrow nationalism, and lengthy recession. But it is not inevitable. Here's hoping cool heads prevail. As of Monday, it's time to get back to work.
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