Clean energy is the UK’s biggest Brexit opportunity

The Green Alliance hosted a debate yesterday, to ask the question: “how will climate ambition define Britain’s role as a global player in the 2020s”?
Debate chair Evan Davis found few in the audience were optimistic about the UK’s role as we move through Brexit, so he asked for positive comments to broaden the debate, and during the course of discussion a few other opportunities arose. So here is New Power’s view of the ‘clean energy’ climate opportunity within Brexit.
Brexiteers, it was said, have a real need to find some way of ‘winning’ Brexit – and remainers who don’t see the decision being reversed need to make the best of it. Both urgently want the UK outside the EU to be seen as setting the global agenda. So politicians are looking for opportunities where they can move fast and make a global splash.

Climate ambition clearly offers one such opportunity. A few outliers aside, it has long term political consensus in the UK and a track record of international action right back to the time that Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher first put it on the agenda. And the value of Brexit is that outside the EU the UK can take more ambitious action if it is not held back by other Member States with very different agendas, such as Poland.
The energy industry puts the UK in pole position here – and the benefits of ambition will come right back home.
We have been a global pioneer in energy industry transformation for decades. Since the UK first deregulated and privatised the energy industry over 20 years ago, other countries have been following or adapting the model for themselves. And the UK is still among the world leaders here: the RIIO regulatory model has been the subject of intense interest, for example, but there are other more dramatic and technically impressive achievements. For example, within a few years we have gone from around half coal-fired power supply to having long stretches without using coal at all. We are showing how to use markets to manage a grid with large proportions of renewables. We are converting oil and gas skills into an offshore wind industry.

These achievements are visible worldwide and a hugely important advertisement for UK technical, financial and regulatory skills in clean energy.

Speakers at the Green Alliance meeting noted that the UK had other ‘Brexit’ opportunities to lead on climate ambitions, such as dealing with land-based emissions as we withdraw from the Common Agricultural Policy. Those opportunities will be there, but they are not immediately within our grasp. The power sector, in contrast, offers immediate wins.

Ambitious international action (and some important domestic decisions, like the future of Contracts for Difference and – please – sensible policy on onshore wind) is not just possible but our great Brexit opportunity to be a global player. Climate activists should use that to press the message: ambitious climate targets are good for the UK and they are achievable. Let’s do business.