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Could Britain be more energy-efficient post-Brexit?

Opponents of Britain's departure from the EU have cited a wide range of concerns, one of which has been that the UK will no longer be subject to European standards on environmental issues. This has led to some fearing that the government may use Brexit as an excuse for a bonfire of regulations, with negative environmental consequences as well as in other areas.

Were that to happen, it could mean less requirement for insulation to be fitted in new homes or retrofitted into older buildings, but it is, of course, equally possible for a British government to legislate for higher standards than those in the EU.

Moreover, the latest development may suggest the post-Brexit EU could actually have less stringent standards of energy efficiency anyway. According to Euronews, Malta, which currently holds the presidency of the European Council, has drafted less ambitious energy saving targets for the 2021-2030 period. It is proposing that the annual energy reduction should be 1.4 per cent, rather than the originally proposed 1.5 per cent. Even a compromise text proposing that the 1.5 per cent target come into effect in 2030 has been ditched.

The use of more and better insulation has been seen by the European Commission as a key element of the solution, along with more energy-efficient appliances. But, it seems, this provision may now be watered down somewhat, even if that makes it harder for EU member states to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement to keep global temperature rises below two degrees celsius.

Naturally enough, campaigners are very unhappy. Dora Petroula of the Climate Action Network said: "It is baffling that EU governments could even consider undermining their energy savings obligations, while the Paris Agreement requires them to do the exact opposite."

Indeed, the report notes, even the European Commission's ambitions could be excessively modest. In 2015, the International Energy Agency estimated that the use of better insulation and other energy-efficient technology could achieve 70 per cent of the EU's emissions reductions target. However, the target proposed by the commission for these measures is only 30 per cent.

Of course, the fact that Malta has proposed this weakening of Europe's energy-efficiency commitments does not mean it will pass; unless it can get wider support the proposal will be defeated and as each country only holds the presidency of the European Union for six months, it will not be long before its successor - Estonia takes over the presidency in July - can offer a new and better plan. Whether that will persuade the commission or fellow member states to be more ambitious is another matter.

Nonetheless, it does raise the possibility that the EU could be less strict with its environmental regulations than Britain. The Maltese plan is not due to take effect until two years after Brexit is completed and the 'great repeal bill' - which rather than actually repealing EU laws simply puts them all on the UK statute book - will thus require Britain to uphold the energy standards inherited from Europe come March 29th 2019. While it will be up to the government and parliament to decide what to do thereafter, it seems even leaving the status quo in place could actually lead to Britain becoming greener and more committed to energy efficiency than the 27 former partners it is leaving behind.