Ships outside the Port of Southampton in England, UK.

UK import patterns would be affected by Brexit. Credit: Matthew Horwood/Getty

Environmental sciences

EU separation would raise UK emissions

Changes in trade between the United Kingdom, the European Union and the rest of the world mean that goods would be imported over longer distances.

Leaving the European Union in the divorce known as Brexit could cause the United Kingdom to import more goods from elsewhere in the world — substantially raising its carbon emissions.

Goods produced and sold within a local market have a lower carbon footprint than those produced and imported from farther away. Luís Costa of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Vincent Moreau of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne calculated trade flows between the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, both before and after the proposed Brexit. They estimated that the United Kingdom would replace some of its European-produced imports with those from farther away.

In a post-Brexit world, the United Kingdom would see a 38% rise in emissions related to producing and consuming goods, compared with 2014 levels. The increase is roughly equal to total emissions from the Netherlands in 2017.

Some of the goods that would have the biggest impact on emissions include food and components for the aerospace and automobile industries, the authors say.