Tag Archives: EU Law

photo via Handelsblatt Global

Banks and Brexit

On Monday evening, I attended a lecture on the potential impact of Brexit on the UK financial services sector (“Report,” link).  The Report was produced by Oliver Wyman and commissioned by TheCityUK.  The presentation covered the current state of play of financial services in the UK, different scenarios for single market access, and some key recommendations for businesses and professional advisers.

Current state of play

  • The UK financial services sector earns approximately £190-205BN in revenues, and of this, up to £50BN is directly related to European Union activity. (Domestic business and other “Rest of World” interactions were not considered).
  • Together with the 1.1 million people working in financial services around the country, the sector generates an estimated £60-67BN of taxes each year, and contributes a trade surplus of approximately £58BN to the UK’s balance of payment.

Key take-aways

The five important features of a successful future relationship between the UK and EU will require the UK to (as recommended by Oliver Wyman): adhere to global norms, retain current access to international markets, maintain/create equivalence and grandfathering, implement orderly transition arrangements, and maintain ongoing regulatory collaboration.

Read more…

Lava Law: Geothermic energy in Iceland & the UK

Iceland straddles one of the Earth’s major fault lines, the Mid-Atlantic ridge. Here I am, at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) in Iceland – one of the few places on Earth where you can see an active spreading ridge above sea level. Essentially, I’m standing in the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates!

Apart from being a really awesome and symbolic place for my husband and I to visit (he’s English, and I’m American), Iceland’s rifts and stunning geology play an active role in the country’s energy sector.

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While there are different ways in which to capture geothermal energy, the most popular method is from naturally occurring hydrothermal convection systems. Put simply, water which has been heated by the Earth’s internal convection rises to the surface. The steam produced is then directed to spin turbines, which is then converted into electrical energy.

To put this in perspective for Icelanders, this geothermal heating system meets the heating and hot water requirements of approximately 87% of all buildings in Iceland!

 

Nesjavellir Combined Heat and Power Plant is a high-enthalpy geothermal system within the Hengill area of Southwest Iceland. The plant is a combined geothermal heat and power plant (CHP) wherein it generates electricity and hot water for district heating.

 

While most of Europe lacks Iceland’s dramatic volcanic activity, there is still a substantial resource of geothermal energy across the European continent.

The European Commission notes that geothermal energy “has the potential for much more widespread use, and to make a significant contribution to the 2020 renewable energy targets established in the European Union.”

Several years ago, Irish based geoservices consultancy CSA Group headed up the GeoThermal Regulation – Heat (“GTR-H”) project to investigate current legal frameworks of geothermal heat legislation and regulation. The results of this study were that deficient or “effectively absent” regulations in Poland, Hungary, Ireland and the UK can identify the barriers to development and harmonisation in the sector.

Conversely, regulations in Germany, France and The Netherlands were found to be “effective and forward looking.” These national frameworks could prove to be a starting point for the development of a European-wide regulatory system.

Of course, with the United Kingdom set to leave the European Union within the next few years, the likelihood of such legislation having an impact on British geothermal capture is likely to be minimal – at least officially. One of the great benefits of being part of the EU and other transnational organisations – in my opinion – is the sharing of resources, knowledge, and expertise in tackling global issues such as climate change.

Despite the Brexit doom and gloom, it’s worth noting that I’m still optimistic about the willingness of Government to reach out and learn from our neighbours. Reading into this topic led me to discover that as recently as 2012, the UK government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Iceland regarding geothermal energy.

One of the key points of this agreement was to “explore the possibility of developing electricity interconnection between Iceland and the UK,” which includes relevant legal and regulatory issues.

Meanwhile, Stoke-on-Trent City Council in Staffordshire, England is set to commence a geothermal feasibility study for a £52m geothermal infrastructure project. So who knows – maybe there’s a Viking god they could consider naming it after?

The Big Smoke: ClientEarth v Defra in context

Efforts to combat air pollution in London have been around since the Middle Ages. In 1307, King Edward II declared that “whoever shall be found guilty of burning coal [in the City] shall suffer the loss of his head.” Three hundred years later, English author John Evelyn published one of the earliest known publications on air pollution, entitled “Fumifugium: or, the Inconveniencie of Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated.”

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Evelyn wrote in his diaries that in London, “the ascent of the smoke was so filled with the [sooty] steam of the coal, that hardly could one see across the street, and this filling the lungs with its gross particles, exceedingly obstructed the breast so as one could scarcely breathe.”

In the 19th century, Parliament took some measures to investigate nuisances arising from smoke pollution. However, as smoke was essential to England’s rapidly-growing industrial economy, and because the physicians were still unable to prove that air pollution was linked to health problems, there was little political will or social pressure to justify tough action.

This remained the status quo until the 1950s, when in December 1952, London experienced the Great Smog. A combination of cold winter weather, heavy fog, and chimney smoke from households burning coal led to the worst air pollution event in British history. Up to 12,000 people are believed to have died as a result, with a further 100,000 being taken seriously ill. In response, scientific research into the environmental increased, awareness grew of the relationship between air quality and health, and of course, more substantial government regulations were introduced.

Nevertheless, air pollution is still estimated to have an effect equivalent to 29,000 deaths each year and is expected to reduce life expectancy of everyone in the UK by 6 months on average, at a cost of around £16 billion per year (UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs).

Smog over the Thames - a sight familiar to Londoners, myself included!

Smog over the Thames – a sight familiar to Londoners

Earlier this year, activist environmental lawyers at ClientEarth took the UK Government to court over its failure to meet air quality standards established by European Union law. The Air Quality Directive sets legally binding limits for major air pollutants that impact public health, including Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) which is produced by road traffic and other fossil fuel combustion processes.

Scientists at King’s College London have said that many roads in central London have the highest concentrations of NO2 in the world due to the large number of diesel vehicles and narrow streets with tall buildings.

The current plans from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) would see the UK achieve compliance for NOlimits by 2030 – which is 20 years after the original EU legal deadline of January 2010.

The Mayor of London published a report by King’s College London in July 2015 with the world’s first estimates for the number of deaths attributable to long-term exposure to NO. They estimated 9,400 deaths from fine particles and NO in London in 2010, making air pollution worse than smoking for the first time.

Lord Carnwath reasoned that there was no doubt in the seriousness of the breach, or the responsibility of the UK Supreme Court to secure compliance. He concluded that the Government needs to take immediate action, and ordered that new plans must be delivered to the European Commission by 31 December 2015.

Activists gather outside the UK Supreme Court for the Final Hearing of ClientEarth v Defra

Alan Andrews is the Partner at ClientEarth who has been leading this legal battle since 2011. Following the decision he said, “obviously we set EU law precedent, and we hope that’s going to allow citizens to go before national courts and uphold their right to breathe clean air, but also to enforce other environmental laws.”

Read the full judgement of R (on the application of ClientEarth) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Respondent) here.