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Category: Brexit

June 20 / A long road: 2021 targets for CO2 emissions in the EU

The European Environment Agency (EEA), my former employer, has published the latest in the series of reports about CO2 emissions for new vans and cars.

As shown in the graph below, there is a big mismatch between the trendline and the 2021 target which requires a very substantial drop in average emissions. Perhaps the manufacturers are banking on the continuing ‘march’ of the low-emission vehicle?

A recent upturn in the average values reflects an increasing predilection for SUVs for EU citizens. This is a shame from the perspective of climate policy; they are generally heavier and less efficient.

The shockwaves of #Dieselgate continue to reverberate, with another fall in diesel registrations – 9% decrease in the last year to 36% of the total market – bringing the total decline to 19% since the peak year of 2011.

The glimmer of hope is that the market share for hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) has increased from 1% to 2% from 2016 to 2018. Continued exponential growth may yet bring transport emissions on track.

Real-world testing

The wheels of regulation turn slowly. Although it was common knowledge that the manufacturers ‘gamed’ the energy efficiency tests, nothing could be done about it due to the power of the manufacturer lobby in Brussels.

Dieselgate finally tipped the power balance in favour of the regulators, and ‘real world’ conditions will be required from 2021.

The UK’s place

With the UK having left the EU, and looking as though it will ‘crash out’ with no deal, it seems likely that this will be the last time that ‘our’ statistics are included as part of the EEA’s work.

Whether this leads to a reduction in CO2 requirements in the UK is unclear. The UK Government appears paralysed between wanting to ‘act’ on CO2, and grimly understanding that there will be horrific economic consequences from leaving the EU without a deal at the end of the year. Maybe they will want to toss regulations out of the window in order to ‘cut costs’ (which in reality will just shift the burden to the population at large and reduce costs to the polluter)? Or maybe Michael Gove was telling the truth when he challenged the EU to an environmental race.

Words are cheap. Action has meaning. This Government has so far shown a distinct preference for the former.

Wales’ place?

As usual, Wales has very little say in what happens to this line of regulation in future, which is a UK matter. If the UK Government decide that they want to (indirectly) reward polluters by weakening the environmental requirements for new vehicles, there is nothing that the Welsh Government can do to stop it, despite there being a direct inherent contradiction with both the Act for the Well-being of Future Generations, and the constitutional obligation to sustainability.

So, as usual, we’ll just have to cross our fingers and suck up whatever’s decided the other end of the M4.

Jan 20 / A love letter to the European Union

Dear European Union,

My relationship with you began on the day I was born, in the mid 1970s. As with all relationships, ours has evolved as we have grown together.

I was unaware of you, even as I travelled with my family to visit other Member States during my childhood, and into my teens. We went camping in France, took a bus to Italy (what an adventure that was!), and enjoyed an exchange visit to the north of Spain with our local outdoor education centre in Merthyr.

Through my early academic career I worked with fellow EU citizens in two of the UK’s finest academic institutions – I refer of course to Lancaster and Nottingham Universities – and I took cycling holidays through Norway, Sweden and Denmark one summer, and through Portugal, Spain and France the next.

It never occurred to me then to think about visa-free travel, or visa-free work, or the right to live and love in different countries. Why would it? I was merely exercising a right I had held my whole life. In the words of Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.

I left academia to enter the world of renewable energy – starting with a job in the south of Spain, and continuing with work in Machynlleth, Bristol, Newcastle, and Copenhagen. In each of these jobs I worked on or with European projects – in Machynlleth I was a partner in four projects simultaneously – and in Denmark I had the privilege of working for a European Agency, the European Environment Agency.

I learnt hugely from my colleagues from the sisterhood of European countries. Yes, from colleagues within the UK, but also from every country in the European Union and beyond.

In 2012 I left Denmark to return to Wales, where I still live today. Wales – you will know this – was a huge recipient of structural funds from the European Union. I suspect that we will come to regret placing our trust in the campaign to leave the European Union. Replete with impossible promises, sweet poison and lies, we will now turn to Westminster, in its wisdom, to ensure that our farmers are able to maintain their custodianship of land and language; that our environment maintains its safeguards so we may fulfill our obligations to the ecology on which we depend. Although Wales maintains a measure of agency due to our Senedd, I fear that the promises of ‘not a penny lost’ will prove to be as empty as the plans for the manner of our exit on the morning after – that terrible morning – the referendum.

I will regret the barriers that will – almost inevitably – be erected to trade in agriculture and fisheries, which will impact so heavily on our small, family-owned farms and fishing businesses. I will also regret the impediments to travel and live within our continent, and particularly the increased challenges faced by families in living with their loved ones. It saddens me that we now require our fellow (ex-fellow) citizens to apply for certification to live in our country – at their expense, of course.

But most of all I grieve for the young people who will face financial and administrative barriers to enjoy living and working amidst the many pleasures of our wonderful continent. Of course, many will still find a way to do so. But doubtless many will be put off by the change in our relationship, and the UK will be the poorer for that.

In finishing this letter, I want you to know that I wish I had done more to demonstrate your value to my fellow citizens. In some tiny way, I am also to blame for this break-up. My promise to you is that I will do everything in my power to help bring the UK back to the family of countries that is the European Union. If that path is one based on the United Kingdom joining as a state of four constituent countries, I would be delighted. If a different path seems more likely – a path that includes these four UK countries going their separate ways – then I will do what I can to ensure that Wales plays its part as an enthusiastic and responsible member of the European Union.

I love EU. One day we will be reunited.