The Six Dangers that Brexit Poses to Renewables by Alex O‘Cinneide

With the UK set to vote this month on whether to remain in the EU, Alex O‘Cinneide warns that a ‘no’ vote could be catastrophic for the renewables sector both in the country and further afield:

We’ve already heard from Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd that Brexit would cost an extra £500 million ($700 million) in energy bills for UK consumers, but surprisingly little has been said about what the impact would be on the UK’s renewables sector and the pressure to reduce carbon emissions in the energy sector.

Perhaps we have heard very little of what an independent UK would look like in these terms because so many eurosceptics are also climate change deniers (think Lord Lawson, Owen Patterson).

The impacts, however, could be catastrophic and everyone else should certainly be worried about what the impacts of Brexit might be on the renewables industry across Europe.

Here are six ways in which Brexit would shake up the renewables sector:

1) The UK regresses on its renewables targets:

While the UK has committed to some carbon reduction targets through the Climate Change Act in 1998, many of the international targets such as those agree at Paris last December are set at the European level, meaning that the flagship renewables targets for 2020 and 2030 would no longer be binding if the UK left.

While the UK is unlikely to completely abandon the targets (it was, after all, instrumental in pushing for them) we could certainly imagine an under-pressure UK government taking the opportunity slip further on its renewables policy.

Even if the UK recommitted to meeting its current targets, the damage to investor confidence would mean untold wasted opportunities in the intervening period.

2) The UK loses €7 billion ($7.8 billion) in funding for energy projects:

One thing we can be relatively sure of is that the UK would lose its funding from the European Investment Bank, which is a critical funder of capital intensive projects in the UK.

In 2014 the EIB invested €7 billion into the UK, of which half were energy projects.

Projects already funded by the EU would be placed into dramatic uncertainty as they try to work out whether their funds can be redirected, or prepaid, or (failing emergency UK government support) they go bust.

These projects include some of the most crucial infrastructural investments to the UK, supporting the general grid infrastructure as well as the all-important development of a renewable power supply.

3) Investment in energy connectors fall, threatening our energy security:

Currently the UK relies on a wide range of infrastructure to provide energy. Gas connectors import 8% of the gas we burn and electric cables from France pick up the supply when the UK grid is under strain.

The situation is even more interlinked in Northern Ireland where the entire system is interdependent with the committedly EU nation to the south.

If the UK were to leave, these connections wouldn’t disappear but the political will to create and maintain new projects would be severely damaged and, inevitably, the future investment for them would be reduced. This development would leave the UK more isolated, and facing wider range of energy problems than it does currently.

4) The UK moves from policy maker to policy taker:

The UK has traditionally had a very strong voice in the EU policy developments, particularly around the liberalisation of the European markets. Exiting would make the UK move from being a policy maker to a policy taker.

The UK might negotiate to stay part of the bodies that co-ordinate the EU energy policy or, failing this, it might just closely follow the EU’s policies.

For instance, the UK might continue to participate in the EU’s cap-and-trade scheme to reduce emissions but it wouldn’t be have any of its current influence on how the policy is decided.

5) Coal plants are forced to stay operational for longer:

As the UK’s energy infrastructure is put under greater strain, the temptation to extend the lifetime of the UK’s coal power plants would be massive.

Currently, the plan is to close all the UK’s coal stations by 2025, but that project is based on the ability of the UK to develop the renewable and gas capacity to replace them.

Exit from the EU would create the flexibility for the UK to slip on this target though, as future governments might find tempting if projects like the troubled Hinckley Point nuclear plant fail to deliver. Indeed, we have already seen creeping attempts to do so, given the pre-existing strain on the UK grid; the government has recently offered to maintain subsidies for two of the UK’s largest coal plants.

6) European leadership on global environmental policy declines:

An EU without Britain would be a radically different political animal, and this would change the face of future European energy policy.

Would we still expect the EU to lead in pushing for renewables targets globally as it did in Paris in 2015?

Would European policy still push for liberalised markets in the same way, or would we see a drift towards sanctioning more protectionist national renewables schemes?

The loss of Britain’s voice in this mix would likely reduce the ambition of the EU; but more than that, it might even affect its ability to have a unified global energy policy.

The fear of further political fragmentation would reduce its ability to lean on individual members and achieve ambitious consensus.

Historical Geography: A Call to Arms

Recently, I was privileged to attend the Sowing the Seeds Workshop at the University of Cambridge. The Workshop was focused on the Economic History of Medieval Europe. While attending, I was struck by the strong level of scholarship of the presenters and panelists. It was a truly informative and inspiring experience. However, I also noticed that there was a dearth of historical geographers; something which was noted by a number of the panelists as well.

It is a  sad irony that historical geographers should have a diminished presence at such interdisciplinary events. The irony lies in that the time is very opportune for our research. Advances in GIS now allow for a plethora of statistical analyses and visualizations of historical data-sets. Additionally, vast amounts of historical documents, calendars, and archives are becoming increasingly digitized and open-source. It cannot be understated how much this increases the efficacy of historical research, but also decreases the time and costs involved with archival research. There are still large swaths of history that require not only initial investigation but also revaluation with GIS and related technologies.

Outside of research tools and data, increasing concern about climate change has also created an interest in the historical climate change. Historical geographer are well situated to analyze these past climatic phenomena. Versed in both historical documents that shed insight into past weather and climate conditions as well as aspects of physical geography, historical geographer can provide a unique lens with which to view and synthesize diverse data. By combining this data, researchers can understand how climatic change has impacted human behavior and well-being. For example, climate reconstructions have been paired with the Irish Annals to understand the interplay between climate fluctuations and conflict. Such understandings can be crucial for adapting to anthropogenic climate change.

The purpose of this post is to encourage young academics to take an interest in historical geography. If you want to pursue this discipline, you will find yourself needed. Historical geography in Ireland, in particular, offers an array of opportunities. A great deal of work still needs to be done on our understanding of how Ireland was populated, how Celtic influence came to Ireland, and the impact of English colonization on medieval Ireland (just to name a few areas). Ireland’s trees and bogs also offer up climate proxies. The tools, the data, and the heuristic opportunities are all there for you to seize.

Thank you for your time,

Christopher Casey Chevallier

Reblogged: A Spectre is Haunting Europe – Ghost Geopolitics in Russia and Ukraine

In a recent blog post in Exploring Geopolitics Dr. Padraig Caromody of TCD Geography discusses Vladimir Putin’s expansionist foreign policy in the context of the current model of global economic integration. In an insightful and stimulating post Dr. Carmody states that “a new spectre haunts Europe currently – communism’s ghost or more precisely a type of ghost geopolitics.”

Apple suspend online sales in Russia as Ruble tumbles (Source: Bidness
Apple suspend online sales in Russia as Ruble tumbles (Source: Bidness

Continue reading “Reblogged: A Spectre is Haunting Europe – Ghost Geopolitics in Russia and Ukraine”

Master Class with IPCC Co-Chair

In November twelve PhD students and post-doctoral researchers from universities around Ireland were given the chance to meet personally with Dr. Chris Field, the co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group II, at the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street in Dublin’s city centre.

Chris field Masterclass 5-11-2014
Young Irish scientists meet with Dr. Field

Continue reading “Master Class with IPCC Co-Chair”

First Indian mission to Mars: A student’s point of view

We Earthlings have long been intrigued by the Red planet. Albeit smaller than the Earth, the fourth planet from the Sun shares a lot of common features with our home world: Mars has seasons, polar ice caps, familiar landform features, and signs that water once flowed over its surface.

Mars was always focus of interest of planetary scientists and astronomers. The race for exploring Mars began in 1960 with a failed attempt by Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). After many failures of Soviet Union and the USA, the first success came with the Mariner 4 spacecraft which flew by Mars in 1965 taking 21 images.

Until now, only three space agencies have been able to reach Mars (Roscosmos, NASA and ESA). After 54 years since the first attempts, the Indian Space Research Agency (ISRO) has joined the club of nations who have reached the red plant. This is great technological feat by ISRO, and means that India have became the first nation to reach Mars orbit in its very first attempt and the first Asian nation to do so. ISRO launched its first inter-planetary mission to the planet with an orbiter craft designed to orbit Mars in an elliptical orbit.

Trajectory Design of Mars Orbiter Mission.  (Image Credit: ISRO)
Trajectory Design of Mars Orbiter Mission. (Image Credit: ISRO)

Continue reading “First Indian mission to Mars: A student’s point of view”

Heartbeat of Trinity: A Sketch of College Park

Whether seeking sanctuary away from the studies or a place for a sunny day drink, College Park has long been a haven for staff and students alike in Trinity College. While College Park reserves the status of hallowed ground in the college, what do we actually know about it?

Take a quick trip back in time to the eighteenth century. Trinity was very different place then: the river estuary came up to the edge of the University, along what is now Pearse St. While you would barely recognise the college at this time, we know that even then there was a park here as far back as 1714. This can be made out from Herman Moll’s map of Dublin.

Evolution of College Park 1714 – 1913. (Source: Historical Maps of Dublin and OSI Map Viewer)
Evolution of College Park 1714 – 1913. (Source: Historical Maps of Dublin and OSI Map Viewer)

Continue reading “Heartbeat of Trinity: A Sketch of College Park”

The plight of pastoralists

At the Trinity International Development Initiative conference to mark Africa Day on 23rd May 2014, participants were reminded by Gregory Akall (University of Cambridge) of some of the challenges facing Turkana pastoralists in northwestern Kenya, particularly with regard to the recent discovery of oil in the region and their attempts to ensure that its exploitation benefits rather than harms the Turkana people’s livelihoods and development. Globally, pastoralists continue to face very significant challenges to their livelihoods due to poverty, political marginalization, climate change and variability, as well as socio-economic factors such as changes in land tenure, agriculture, sedentarisation and the institutional break-up of large-scale pastoral ecosystems into spatially isolated systems [1, 2].

For the past decade in western China, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tibetan pastoralists have faced concerted effort to resettle in government-built villages in the ethnic Tibetan areas of China (including the Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Gansu, and Sichuan provinces) [3, 4]. This is the most recent attempt in a long history of the State attempting to intervene in the traditional livelihood strategies of the pastoralists [5]. Through the ‘Open up the West’ policy, the official goal of the State is to eliminate regional disparities and encourage economic development in the poorer western regions through major infrastructure investments and very significant increase in the exploitation of natural resources. The region is also home to the headwaters of three of Asia’s most important rivers – the Yellow river, the Yangtze, and the Mekong river – and the Sanjiangyuan (Three Rivers) nature reserve has been established to protect and conserve the headwaters of these lifelines to the estimated 600 million population downstream that depends on the river for sustenance and livelihood. Pastoralists have been blamed for overgrazing and environmental degradation of the rangelands and up to 200,000 have been forced to sell their livestock and settle in purpose-built settlement villages in Qinghai’s Three Rivers area alone [6]. While the government insists that such schemes are voluntary, researchers have found that fear of repercussions from protesting the scheme was a leading factor in herders going along with resettlement programs [3].

New village built for the settlement of pastoralists on the Qinghai Tibetan plateau (Source)

For most pastoralists this sudden shift to a sedentary lifestyle in the cash economy is a huge cultural shock as they switch to depending on government subsidies to cope with increased living costs, limited employment opportunities and increasing social ills such as alcoholism, while losing the complex knowledge and understanding of the environment that they lived in and managed for centuries.

Yaks being herded along a Qinghai highway (Source)

There have been repeated requests for the Chinese government to halt the resettlement programmes, including a call in January 2012 by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food security, Olivier de Schutter, to “immediately halt non-voluntary resettlement of nomadic herders from their traditional lands and non-voluntary relocation or rehousing programmes of other rural residents” [7]. Instead of the programmes, he advocated meaningful consultations and a careful examination of all the management options by all parties. Yet under the 12th Five-year plan, the central government aims to resettle all herders by the end of 2015 [8]. With regard to the Environmental Migration policy which underpins the central government’s strategy of resettlement in Qinghai, Foggin (2011) [6] notes that lessons can be learned from other regions in the world which have faced similar issues. Foggin suggests the development of community co-management approaches to conserve the environment in the Three Rivers headwaters, thereby giving pastoralists a meaningful role in the area’s conservation and development and allowing them to adapt and modify their livelihoods whilst not feeling a loss of identity and hope for the future.


Authored by Dr. Julian Bloomer, TCD Geography PhD graduate 2008. You can read about Julian’s circumnavigation of the world by bicycle at:



  1. Dong, S., Wen, L. Liu, S., Zhang, X., Lassoie, J.P., Yi, S., Li, X., Li, J., Li, Y. (2011) Vulnerability of worldwide pastoralism to global changes and interdisciplinary strategies for sustainable pastoralism, Ecology and Society, 16(2).
  2. Eneyew, A. (2012) Is settling pastoralists a viable livelihood strategy? Implication for policy dialogue, Journal of Agricultural Science, 2(5), 94-102.
  3. Human Rights Watch (2013) “They say we should be grateful”: mass rehousing and relocation programs in Tibetan areas of China (pdf).
  4. Dell’Angelo, J. (2013) The sedentarization of Tibetan nomads: conservation or coercion?, in, Healy, H., Martinez-Alier, J., Temper, L., Walter, M., Gerber, J-F. (eds.) Ecological economics from the ground up, Earthscan: London, 309-331.
  5. Ptackova, J. (2011) Sedentarisation of Tibetan nomads in China: implementation of the nomadic settlement project in the Tibetan Amdo area, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, Pastoralism: research, policy and practice, 1(4).
  6. Foggin, J.M. (2011) Rethinking ‘ecological migration’ and the value of cultural continuity: a response to Wang, Song and Hu, Ambio, 40, 100-101.
  7. UNHRC (2012) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter: Mission to China (Addendum), Human Rights Council: Nineteenth session Agenda item 3 Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, General Assembly, January 20, 2012, A/HRC/19/59/Add.1 (pdf).
  8. Fan, M. (2013) Changing pastoralism with settlement of herders in China, presentation to Third Multi-stakeholder platform meeting, Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, Nairobi (pdf).