Brexit lessons for climate change

+ There are lessons to be learnt from Brexit and the ongoing global discussions about how to tackle climate change.

I was shocked and saddened when, on the 23rd of June, Britain voted to leave the EU. I was also struck by the worrying parallels between the Brexit saga and the ongoing global discussions about how to tackle climate change

With Brexit, campaigning politicians were avoiding “expert” opinion about the economic effects of Brexit, with facts in general given low priority in the campaign. The climate change debate has been fought in this way for years, even though 97% of scientists (experts) agree on the causes of climate change. Will naysayers drown out the resolve of the majority? 

There are many reasons why the Remain camp lost, but I believe one of the most significant was the inability to articulate a positive vision. With climate change, maybe it’s now time to focus more on the positive stories and benefits of action rather than the threats associated with inaction. 

The advocates for climate change action must clearly communicate the direct benefits and related benefits of climate action. For example, a recent International Energy Agency report quantified the links between energy, air pollution, and health, finding 6.5 million people die each year from the effects of air pollution. At Arup, we are working with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group to help develop the measurement and communication of such co-benefits to cities seeking to take climate action.  

In contrast to Brexit, which arguably may affect the UK’s relationships with EU states, collaboration, cooperation and partnership are key at all levels in the fight against climate change. Organisations such as the C40, 100 Resilient Cities, and the newly formed Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy represent cross-border collaboration on a monumental scale, allowing them to rise above their local issues and tackle ones of global importance. Greenhouse gases recognise no geographical boundaries; we cannot close our borders to those from abroad, and can’t stop our own from harming others.  

Nevertheless, there are real signs that things are moving in increasingly the right direction. In 2015, carbon emissions apparently stopped growing, more renewable power capacity was added than fossil fuel capacity globally, and at COP21 a global climate change agreement was negotiated between 196 countries. But we must work together to ensure that the energy transition continues and we maintain and pursue aggressive goals. 

Before it happened, I would never have believed that the UK would vote to leave the EU, but it did and I was shocked. On the flipside, many, many people do not believe that we can prevent catastrophic global warming – let’s prove them wrong and shock the world, together.