Alan Brown reckons the UK is in danger of becoming “the dirty man of Europe” if environmental policies are not adopted post-Brexit.
As he settled into his new role as the SNP’s Westminster group spokesman for energy and climate change, the Kilmarnock and Loudoun MP told the Standard that the clock is ticking on the race to lower carbon emissions and improve the environment.
And he admitted he has concerns as to how environmental policy will look now that Britain has left the European Union.
“The idea the UK Government will raise the standard now they are out the EU is just a lie frankly,” he said.
“In the EU, there is nothing stopping you going to a higher standard. The EU sets a minimum that everyone must agree to.”
Asked whether he worried about the implications of losing environmental protections post-Brexit, Mr Brown said: “If you look at some of the people in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, they have long argued for ripping up regulations which could help the environment as well as workers’ rights.
“There’s a risk of a race to the bottom, which probably won’t happen overnight, but will be a gradual decline.
“One example I have is that I used to work for Scottish Water so I know that the beaches were cleaned up because of the EU.
“The EU had to force the UK to stop putting raw sewage into the sea – so if it wasn’t for being a member of the EU, then Britain would still effectively be the dirty man of Europe.
“That’s a legacy which they say they will not go back to but that’s what could happen.”
The UK Government aims to make Britain carbon neutral by 2050 – something Mr Brown believes is ambitious under the current regime.
He said: “With renewable energy, the UK Government is blocking offshore wind because some people objected to offshore wind in some parts of England and as a result it has become Tory policy.
“Research shows a majority of Tory party members are in favour of onshore wind but this vocal minority have completely distorted the argument.
“There are also people in the Conservative party who were keen to get domestic energy efficiency measures put into place.
“However, they are still drowned out by the government’s spending priorities.”
Mr Brown has taken inspiration from Norway where households are swapping to electric cars in larger numbers than anywhere else in the world.
In March 2014, Norway became the first country to make one in every 100 passenger cars on the road a plug-in electric vehicle.
Electric cars accounted for a 44.3 per cent share of Norway’s new car sales in January.
Only 1.6 per cent of UK car sales were electric in 2019 – although this is a rise of 114 per cent in demand.
“We need a massive switch to low-emission vehicles,” he commented.
“Many people still do not have the confidence in buying electrical cars but the government need to incentivise people to do it.”
Mr Brown said the reason for the discrepancy between electric car sales in Norway and the UK was down to incentivising measures from governments.
He said: “In Norway, they have made sure that charging networks are right across the country.
“People are confident buying the cars because they know that whatever journey they are on, there will be a charging point.
“The UK Government need to stop dragging their heels.”
Mr Brown also believes the departure from petrol or diesel cars would improve the life of urban residents and workers who regularly suffer from high pollution levels.
Reports from 2019 show that air pollution is responsible for more deaths than smoking, with people living in UK towns and cities 25 per cent more likely to die from air pollution than a car crash.
“Across the UK there are 40,000 people who die prematurely because of air pollution,” Mr Brown said, “so it’s actually killing people.
“Why is the UK Government not doing more about that?”
Mr Brown says high-profile events of the last year have helped move the dial with regards to the climate crisis and the urgency of the situation affecting the planet.
He said: “I think there is more awareness.
“Clearly, it’s been a high-profile year from Greta Thunberg, pictured left, to the wildfires in Australia.
“People are starting to realise that there are more and more of these catastrophic events happening across the world.”
“Change has to start happening now.”