Brexit And Climate Change: Global Warming, The Refugee Crisis, And An Uncertain Future

Was Brexit — or the recent British vote to leave the European Union — caused by climate change? Global warming, the refugee crisis, and Brexit are linked in several ways and uncertainty continues to mount in the aftermath of the U.K.’s historic decision.

As pointed out in a story in the Christian Science Monitor, Europe’s policies on climate are thrown into doubt by the Brexit vote. Just six months ago, the E.U. agreed on carbon-reduction goals as a block in the historic Paris climate treaty. Will that treaty continue to be valid – and for whom – and how will Great Britain and the rest of Europe separate their policies and then negotiate climate change matters in the future? Many questions remain unanswered.

The clock doesn’t actually begin to tick on Brexit until Britain invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that created the European Union, and the U.K. hasn’t done so as of yet. That means that Brexit – and the uncertainty – could drag on for much longer.

Observers fear that the hard won concessions of the Paris treaty will be undermined by the U.K.’s exit from the European Union. The Paris treaty called for reducing greenhouse gas emission by 40 percent by 2030, but Brexit throws the nascent scheme into limbo. Amber Rudd, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, spoke at a conference last week and was quoted in Time Magazine.

“The UK’s role in dealing with a warming planet may have been made harder by the decision last Thursday. However we choose to leave the EU, let me be clear: we remain committed to dealing with climate change.”

Climate change and global insecurity

Global warming is both an issue to be dealt with and a catalyst on its own. Music legend Emmylou Harris went on record earlier this month to lend her voice to the push for humanitarian relief of the global refugee crisis. She wasn’t afraid to link climate change to the swell of refugees entering Europe, and her June interview with Mongabay is quoted in a report published by the Pulitzer Center.

“I know it’s an additional reason beyond all the wars and civil unrest. I know we have so many deniers in the United States. But you can’t deny the obvious.”

In May, the United Nations published its own report on the subject, presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. Global warming affects entire communities, as the report notes, including extreme weather conditions such as droughts or floods, along with more gradual changes like rising sea levels and the resulting effects on food insecurity. The report recognizes that conflicts can arise as a secondary complication of climate change.

How does Brexit fit into the picture?

A piece in The Guardian links the Brexit camp’s anti-intellectual philosophy and mistrust of expert opinion with climate change denial. The influx of Syrian refugees was also a card played heavily by the Leave camp, and that’s where it links back to global warming.

Joe Romm, an American physicist, climate change expert, writer, and perennial blogger at ThinkProgress and elsewhere draws the connection in a piece that was widely quoted in other media. As he points out, it has been acknowledged that climate change, as caused by human activity, has a direct link to the ongoing civil war in Syria, which in turn has led to the displacement of so many of its citizens. A severe drought caused the collapse of Syria’s agricultural sector, leading to mass migration, both factors that contributed heavily to the untenable conditions that led to the conflict. In the piece, he warns that Syria is only the first of many such climate-related refugee crises to come.

Climate change knows no borders and requires a global effort to combat; events like the Brexit vote put that level of international cooperation to the test.

[Image by Christo Mitkov Christov/Shutterstock]