In the run up to the referendum I intend to post a blog each Sunday detailing the reasons why Britain will be better off outside the European Union. These posts will cover the following topics: the economy, influence, democracy, security, the environment, cost, and reform.
One of the less prominent, but no less misleading, arguments in this campaign has been that the EU is an effective protector of the environment. This is no doubt based upon it's various directives and green targets which it imposes on it's members in order to drive down their carbon-footprint. This however only paints part of the picture, and belies the way that the EU actually operates, and what it's priorities are, when setting these policies.
A prime example of this was the adoption of palm oil as a biofuel. The European Commission's Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil scheme contained an association of hundreds of palm oil growers, processors, traders and distributors, as well as some non-governmental organizations working in palm-oil producing nations, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. This lobbying effort eventually resulted in the EU pushing palm oil as an alternative fuel, meaning that the palm oil producers it licenses can qualify for subsidies. An effective effort on the part of the lobbyists. However, palm oil is not an environmentally friendly biofuel. According to Friends of the Earth at the time of the EU's announcement, "Palm oil is driving deforestation, wildlife loss, community conflicts, and accelerating climate change. Instead of greenwashing palm oil, the EU should outright ban its use as a biofuel." Furthermore, Rainforest Rescue have set out the horrendous effects palm oil manufacture and biodiesel refineries have had, from deforestation to human rights violations. Indeed the Commission's own research into palm oil concluded that extra demand for food crops such as palm oil for the production of biofuels can have a significant impact on climate change, forests and peat swamps destroyed to make way for land to grow biomass for fuel can have an even worse impact on CO2 emissions than some fossil fuels, and that palm oil was one of the worst biofuel sources in terms of indirect land use change. But as other's have noted, Brussels is a lobbyist's paradise.
Palm oil is just one example. Only last year we had the scandal of Volkswagon cheating emissions tests. Almost uniquely in the world, the EU had adopted standards that promoted diesel engines, enforcing emissions standards that focused on carbon dioxide (CO2) instead of nitrogen oxide (NO2).
This was a result again of successful lobbying efforts on the part of European car manufacturers to revive their flagging diesel industry. Diesel emits four times more NO2 than petrol and 22 times more of various other pollutants. However, it does produce 15 per cent less CO2 than petrol, so a massive operation was begun to sell the new standard as part of the Kyoto climate change process to reduce CO2 emissions. Health risks were overlooked, and the conversation was skilfully turned to global warming. The European Commission thus prioritised a cut in CO2 emissions over the more immediate health problems caused by exhaust fumes.
According to Simon Birkett, of Clean Air in London: ‘It was practically an order to switch to diesel. The European car fleet was transformed from being almost entirely petrol to predominantly diesel. Britain, Germany, France and Italy offered subsidies and sweeteners to persuade car makers and the public to buy diesel.’ As a result, diesel cars went from less than 10 per cent of the UK market in 1995 to more than half by 2012, with equivalent rises across the continent, and the EU had successfully promoted a dirtier, more environmentally harmful, fuel.
Corporate lobbying has meant that not only does the EU back environmentally harmful policies, but it also works to restrict access to greener alternatives. Thanks to pressure from EU ProSun, a German led alliance of European solar manufacturers, the EU imposes tariffs of up to 68 per cent on Chinese Solar panels. The protectionist nature of the EU has meant that we in Europe are paying unnecessarily high prices for low-carbon technology. This has had a detrimental effect on the industry, with only 7GW of solar power installed in the EU in 2014, down from 21GW in 2011, and employment in the sector more than halving in the same period.
Leaving the EU will give us the freedom to pursue a much more effective environmental policy. We can take a further leading role on the world stage in shaping global regulations that help, not hinder, businesses that are pursuing environmentally friendly solutions to the world's energy problems, and by eliminating punitive tariffs on low-carbon technology, increase the adoption of green energy here at home. Pushing down the cost of living and increasing jobs into the bargain.