The government indicated last week that it still plans to honour a commitment to match or go further than EU green product rules after Brexit. The evidence – a rather dry draft Statutory Instrument (SI) on power supplies for electrical goods – shouldn’t come as a surprise: the commitment was set out just two years ago in the Clean Growth Strategy.
The policy statement the government made on the Environment Bill earlier in the summer was also encouraging, promising new legal powers on product resource efficiency.
Nonetheless, the new SI and its accompanying consultation are a rare positive amid suggestions that wider promises that a regulatory level playing field would be maintained are unravelling.
The new package will cut energy bills further
The SI is the first of a number that will eventually transfer ecodesign and energy labelling rules made by the EU last spring, but not due to enter force until after Brexit, into UK law. The so-called autumn package, covering a range of products from lightbulbs and fridges to welding equipment, is expected to cut EU electricity consumption by five per cent a year from 2030. Despite the traditional objections in the tabloids to Brussels bureaucrats interfering with our toasters, it will also save households and industrial consumers across the EU (and in the UK, assuming we adopt same measures) €20 billion a year. The rest of the package will enter into force a little later so consultations are scheduled for next autumn.
Admittedly, the current package will potentially be easier to sell to UK product manufacturers than some of its successors as the UK was involved in its drafting. However, many of the companies producing or selling products here will still have a voice through other parts of their companies or trade associations in the EU.
They have also welcomed commitments to maintain parity with the EU: there is no interest among manufacturers for a different set of standards to their nearest market, while opening up the domestic market to cheap poor quality imports.
The government should stick to its guns
All the same, there might be some difficult conversations further down the line about the details, particularly if there are attempts to increase ambition through the ecodesign and labelling standards. Where this is the case, the government should stick to its guns if there is push back: this isn’t a policy that requires a drastic change of lifestyle, or raises challenging issues around affordability, fairness or trust.
We also know people want longer lasting products. But it makes sense to explore alternative ways of boosting the effectiveness of the policy as well as keeping a detailed eye on the standards themselves. Better enforcement would be one example, but research into public attitudes has also suggested there is support for reforming product taxation to reward more efficient products.
There are other positives about this consultation. Recently, we’ve become accustomed to Brexit related SIs landing fully formed in parliament, so it’s good to see a proper, detailed consultation period, albeit a rather short one, running until 15 October. The new SI will also apply across the UK, ensuring continuity.
These might sound like small pluses against a Brexit background that has gone a shade less green. However, they are positives nonetheless and green groups and, to a large extent, industry, will be hoping they are the start of an ongoing theme towards wholehearted government support for ecodesign rather than a one-off.