Brexit, The Paris Agreement, And Election 2016

By Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network

The United States is not the only country going through a trying campaign and voting season. The long-awaited Brexit vote came to pass on June 23rd. In a close call, the UK voted to leave the European Union (48.1% to 51.9%). In the months—and likely years—to come the complications of separation from international rulings and decisions will occupy the minds of not only EU and British politicians, but also climate change advocates and analysts. And here at home, they serve as a stark reminder that every vote matters, every voter matters, and those that do not vote do not count.

Britain’s jarring separation from the EU throws the hard earned Paris Agreement into murky waters. Britain is the second largest greenhouse gas emitter in the EU. Collectively, the 28 EU nations committed to reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030 – an ambitious reduction spearheaded by the EU.

Within the EU emissions reduction pledge, many details have yet to be hammered out. The “burden sharing” attitude of the EU lends itself to be modified as neither the UK or the EU has ratified the agreement. What sort of modifications would need to be made though is still unclear, further delaying EU ratification.

The UK, in kind, would likely put forward its own separate pledge of GHG emission reduction. It is currently on track to cut its emissions 57% by 2030 under a 2008 domestic law, but its current climate policy is mixed with domestic and international laws. UK authorities also expressed concern over the parties that would be deciding these new laws. Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, points out that the current set of Ministers and the government have made attempts to water down environmental protection laws and have reduced support for clean energy and renewable technology. Brexit sends a message that collaboration takes the backseat to self-interest when it comes to tackling global climate change. Hundreds of UK citizens now say that had they known it would pass they would have voted the other way. Were they unaware of the full consequences of their vote? Were they unaware that their votes counted in the first place?

The most important take away lesson for those of us who deeply care about climate change on this side of the pond is not to take democracy and voting for granted. We need to get out and vote every chance we get and to vote for candidates who make solving climate change a top priority. We climate and environmental voters have to define our issues, pick our candidates, support them vocally and publicly, and vote for them on election day. No, democracy is not a spectator’s sport. And you can’t vote if you aren’t registered. Get registered today!