WHEB Commentary

A New Era for London and Brussels


The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. It is only four-and-a-half years since the UK decided to leave the European Union, which it finally did at the end of last month. But so much has changed since 2016 that it can feel like peering back into a different age.

Then, it would have seemed impossible that the eventual Brexit deal would be the first trade deal in the world to enshrine a climate obligation.

And yet, here we are: both sides have affirmed their commitment to climate neutrality by 2050, in the very text of the deal. Any derogation from this commitment can result in trade actions by the other side. Stronger still, it could ultimately lead to the termination of the agreement.

But then, in June 2016 it would have seemed far-fetched that the UK could ban internal combustion engine sales by 2030. Or plan to install 40GW of offshore windpower by the same date. Or indeed, have been the first G7 country to make a net zero carbon commitment, as long ago as the summer 2019.
And of course, no-one would have predicted that we would stumble out of the EU amid the first truly global pandemic in modern times. An event so profound that it finally sucked the oxygen from our national self-immolation around Brexit.

Although now that we look into it, we see epidemiologists had warned us that this could happen at any time. But like climate scientists, they were struggling to be heard.

Indeed, in the distant land of 2016, we were encouraged to ignore experts of all kinds. We do things differently now. That view is returning to a more sober approach, either in climate or pandemic policy.
So experiences unfold and priorities change. And as different as 2016 was to today, so the future will be another country again. The Brexit deal doesn’t define the new UK-EU relationship. It just starts the process of finding that out.

Here at WHEB, we think that starting point seems quite sensible. The basic deal is that environmental and social protections are not to be reduced below the levels in place when the deal was signed. And if they are, then there is a “rebalancing” mechanism that the other side can apply, on an equal footing.

This isn’t quite the level of protection that some observers, fearful of backsliding by the UK government, might have wished for. Full equivalence would have meant both sides had to match each other. And strictly speaking the measures only apply to removing protections that have an impact on trade. And there are other detailed points which could alarm us as environmentalists. If you want to find them.

But, with a bit of goodwill and good intentions, it could easily be enough. For WHEB’s portfolio investments, the impacts of Brexit have in reality been very limited. The strategy has a low level of exposure to the UK economy. Anaemic domestic markets have little direct bearing on strategy performance. Changing regulations have required us to launch a new fund structure to accommodate our EU-based investors. As tortuous as this has felt, it is small beer compared to the experience of many.

Ultimately, the UK and its largest and closest partner still share a host of real sustainability challenges. While no longer a part of the EU, we will still need to find new ways to tackle them together.

And eventually we will perhaps look back at the chaos of 2020 and be amazed at how different things were then.

Recent posts

  • The role of home health in the pandemic and beyond
  • Gas prices, ‘greenflation’ and governmental gatherings
  • We’ve been warned – climate crisis and weak links in the supply chain
  • Is ESG a waste of time?
  • Code Red from the IPCC
  • Extreme weather – a wake-up call on climate mitigation and adaptation
  • The price of civilisation
  • Delivering carbon reductions – moving beyond the targets
  • Is Amazon really a sustainable investment?
  • What is the best way to tackle plastic waste?
  • Archive

  • October 2021 (3)
  • September 2021 (1)
  • August 2021 (2)
  • July 2021 (3)
  • June 2021 (1)
  • May 2021 (1)
  • April 2021 (3)
  • March 2021 (1)
  • February 2021 (1)
  • January 2021 (3)
  • December 2020 (1)
  • November 2020 (2)
  • October 2020 (3)
  • September 2020 (1)
  • August 2020 (2)
  • July 2020 (3)
  • June 2020 (2)
  • May 2020 (1)
  • April 2020 (3)
  • March 2020 (1)
  • February 2020 (2)
  • January 2020 (1)
  • December 2019 (1)
  • November 2019 (2)
  • October 2019 (3)
  • September 2019 (1)
  • August 2019 (2)
  • July 2019 (3)
  • June 2019 (2)
  • May 2019 (3)
  • April 2019 (1)
  • March 2019 (1)
  • February 2019 (2)
  • January 2019 (3)
  • December 2018 (1)
  • November 2018 (2)
  • October 2018 (4)
  • September 2018 (2)
  • August 2018 (4)
  • July 2018 (1)
  • June 2018 (1)
  • May 2018 (1)
  • April 2018 (2)
  • March 2018 (2)
  • February 2018 (1)
  • January 2018 (1)
  • December 2017 (3)
  • November 2017 (1)
  • July 2017 (3)
  • June 2017 (1)
  • May 2017 (1)
  • April 2017 (1)
  • February 2017 (2)
  • November 2016 (1)
  • August 2016 (1)
  • July 2016 (1)
  • June 2016 (1)
  • May 2016 (1)
  • April 2016 (2)
  • February 2016 (1)
  • December 2015 (1)
  • November 2015 (3)
  • October 2015 (1)
  • September 2015 (1)
  • July 2015 (2)
  • April 2015 (2)
  • February 2015 (2)
  • December 2014 (2)
  • November 2014 (3)
  • October 2014 (4)
  • August 2014 (1)
  • July 2014 (3)
  • June 2014 (1)
  • April 2014 (2)
  • March 2014 (2)
  • February 2014 (3)
  • January 2014 (4)
  • December 2013 (4)
  • October 2013 (5)
  • September 2013 (3)
  • July 2013 (4)
  • June 2013 (2)
  • May 2013 (4)
  • April 2013 (2)
  • March 2013 (4)
  • February 2013 (6)
  • January 2013 (2)
  • December 2012 (3)
  • November 2012 (1)
  • October 2012 (4)
  • September 2012 (2)
  • August 2012 (1)
  • July 2012 (3)
  • June 2012 (3)
  • May 2012 (6)
  • April 2012 (4)
  • March 2012 (5)