Cooperation over UK and EU energy policy is a must

Scotland Europe Initiative
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Cooperation over UK and EU energy policy is a must

May 26 2023, by Professor Peter Cameron

The Brexit process implies a growing disconnect between the energy policy of the EU and that of the UK. Even if key laws and regulations remain in place in both, it does seem likely that the UK Government and the EU will take different approaches to the major challenges that arise. These are: energy security in the light of the disruption to supplies following the invasion of Ukraine, and the ongoing actions required to meet their respective net zero targets.

Energy is not a devolved competence but statements by the Scottish Government make it clear that an accelerated shift to renewable energy and newer forms of clean energy such as hydrogen is very much in line with its policy preferences on net zero. To make this happen, at the appropriate scale, new technologies and designs in wind farm construction and grid connections will play a role. Our recent workshop addressed these issues in three parts.

First, it noted that divergence was likely but that the problems which Scotland, the UK and the EU are addressing now and in future are very similar, opening up the possibility of learning from each other’s experiences. Ways of enabling cross-border trade has to be found, preserving common standards and minimising political risks to investment in infrastructure.

Second, it noted how the divergent responses to the ‘energy crisis’ in the past couple of years have put such cooperation at risk, and indeed have also risked failure to meet climate change targets on the path to net zero by 2045 in Scotland and 2050 in England. The reasonableness of such measures was not questioned, given the challenges that citizens have been facing with respect to affordability of energy, especially among the more vulnerable members of the population.

Third, the workshop tried to look beyond the current crisis atmosphere, noting the long-term character of the climate challenge, and the need to rebuild energy policy in the UK and the EU. In this respect, it noted the following points:

The EU is holding the line on net zero: There was a sense that the EU is making efforts to balance its response to the crisis with its decarbonisation commitments and retain solidarity among its members, while exploring new technologies and ways of decentralising energy management. A framework has long been established for infrastructure investment that would help with the development of hydrogen. The EU sees it necessary to accelerate the energy transition despite the current crisis. So, departures from this overall goal are being tolerated only when they are limited in scope and in time.

The UK is wobbling: By contrast, the UK response to the current crisis seems to be characterised by a variety of short-term and long-term responses to supply shortages and affordability, calling into question the many commitments in law and policy to achieving net zero. The result is a lack of policy coherence. UK policy making is also taking place in relative isolation, with its heavy dependence upon trends in global energy markets encouraging a knee-jerk response.

Cooperation is an imperative: The instruments that are most appropriate to achieving net zero targets are largely untested and sometimes controversial: will carbon capture be effective if it takes place at scale and does it really tackle the problem of fossil fuel dependence? Similarly, little is known about how hydrogen can be used in a green form, commercially and at scale. Bridges have to be created across any divergences in policy to ensure that the UK and the EU learn from each other in tackling these (and other) changes in the energy space.

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Scotland-Europe Initiative

This Initiative will examine Scotland’s and the UK’s relations with Europe and the effects of Brexit on our daily life by exploring public policy issues such as trade and investment, energy policy, and migration.

Find out more about the Scotland-Europe Initiative

Peter Cameron FRSE is a Professor of International Energy Law and Director of the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at the University of Dundee.

The RSE’s blog series offers personal views on a variety of issues. These views are not those of the RSE and are intended to offer different perspectives on a range of current issues.

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