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Climate Change Must Not Be Forgotten As The UK's Back Turns Towards Brussels

18/10/2017 17:31 BST | Updated 18/10/2017 17:31 BST
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Brexit means Brexit. Whatever this silly little phrase means, for me, one thing is clear: Brexit means that pressing issues are falling down the political agenda as quickly as the rats from good ship Brexit scuttled away on June 24th last year.

Brexit is all-encompassing. So much of our legislation is bound up with the European Union that MPs would have to sit 24 hours a day into the next century to discuss it all. There's enough barking going on from both sides of the debate to last us well into the next millennia. Should we remain in the single market? Should we leave the customs union? Should we have a second referendum?

Whatever side of the argument you're on, one salient thing which cannot be argued with is that other issues - many of which are time sensitive - are going by the way-side. Mental health, counter-terrorism, humanitarian crises, the list goes on. These issues are clearly being discussed by MPs of all colours, but the greedy legislative burden that Brexit poses is making progress on these issues incredibly difficult.

Most people get interested in politics via a single issue. Mine was climate change. I'm not some hipster who wants to follow Naomi Klein's books as if they were gospel. But I do strongly believe that the action we take - or, perhaps more importantly, don't take - to help tackle global climate change will one day define how this generation is viewed in history books which are yet to be written.

Forgetting Brexit for a second (difficult for some, I know): this government's record on climate change isn't exactly rosy. I've still never quite forgiven Theresa May for abolishing the Department for Energy and Climate Change during her first day as PM. Not only did it ruin my masters dissertation, she sent out a message that her government was demoting the UK to a follower of climate change policy, rather than a leader. At the time, I asked a member of the DECC select committee where the statutory obligation for the government's climate change agenda now laid. He was unsure. Over a year later, and I'm sure there's a file in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy named "climate change targets" filed somewhere near the bins.

Since then, we've seen Theresa May continue the roll back of policies promoting renewable energy sources which began under David Cameron. The man who once hugged a husky is in no way a friend of climate change campaigners. The truth is this government is hallmarked with, at best, a reluctance to address climate change, and at its worst, borderline denial of its very existence.

In the EU, the UK helped to set the agenda on climate change. It was the last Labour government which introduced the Climate Change Act (2008) which set ambitious emissions targets, catalysing Europe-wide benchmarks. The government may tell us that the EU targets which we are currently legally obliged to meet will continue to be followed after we leave the EU but over the past 16 months since the Brexit vote, we haven't yet received cast iron guarantees on pretty much anything. Just as the rights of EU citizens living in the EU shouldn't be used as a bargaining chip with the EU 27, neither should the health of the planet.

In a strange way, the Brexit mayhem acts as a huge dead cat which is constantly thrown by the government. Sure: they may receive bad press over the issue, but when it comes down to it, Brexit deflects attention from the government's reluctance to guarantee investment in renewables projects such as the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon or the fact that we are back-sliding on our renewables efforts more widely. The truth is we cannot trust this government on a single issue until it is written into law.

It's impossible to mention the current state of global debate around climate change without mentioning a significant source of hot air: Donald Trump. With the US President signalling America will withdraw from the Paris Accord, we cannot afford to stand by on the other side of the road. A non-existent trade deal of British ego is not worth destroying the UK's reputation as a global leader on climate change. I'd rather be patriotic about our efforts to halt one of mankind's greatest challenges than sell the USA a few cars at a slightly cheaper price.

In short, the legislative black hole of Brexit risks swallowing up one of Britain's most noble stands. Sure, Brexit will define how we move forward as a nation; I'm not denying that the way through which we leave the EU doesn't need to be discussed. If, however, we want to be a truly "global Britain" - as the Tory line goes - we must not allow the foundations we have made towards progress on climate change to crumble whilst our backs are turned towards Brussels.