Environment Secretary Michael Gove has declined to attend a meeting of European environment ministers to discuss climate change, just one day after the release of a damning report on global warming from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The report, published on Monday (8 October), sets out the damage that will be caused to the earth if we push global warming beyond 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels, calling on governments to work together to bring about the radical system change needed to limit rises in temperature.
“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group on the mitigation of climate change. “We show that [keeping to 1.5°C] is possible within laws of physics and chemistry… The final tick box is political will.”
Senior environment ministers from across the EU met in Luxembourg on Tuesday (9 October) to discuss environmental issues including cutting CO2 emissions. At the meeting, ministers agreed on a proposed regulation on CO2 standards for cars and vans, and discussed wider climate change issues in preparation for the upcoming UN Convention on Climate Change conference in December. However, Gove did not attend the meeting, instead sending junior ministers Thérèse Coffey and Claire Perry.
In fact, according to the Independent, Gove has failed to attend even one of the EU Environment Council meetings during his time as Environment Secretary, and no Cabinet Minister has been present in his place, something that has drawn criticism from environmental campaigners and politicians alike.
Green MP Caroline Lucas commented: “Yesterday's IPCC report exposed the government's approach to tackling climate change as completely inadequate. Michael Gove's failure to engage with the EU Environment Council tells us everything we need to know about whether they plan to take the urgent action necessary to avoid disaster.
“With just 12 years left to turn things around, we need an environment secretary dedicated to working across borders to create a fairer, healthier, safer society – not a self-promoting architect of an environmentally destructive Brexit.”
Mixed bag on environmental issues
Gove has drawn praise for his actions at the helm of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with Richard Black, Director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit describing him as “energetic and proactive”.
It certainly helps that Gove is presiding over the department at a time of high public engagement in a number of environmental issues, particularly around plastic waste and pollution. Some of Defra’s headline policies under Gove have tackled this subject, with the government consulting on a deposit return scheme for beverage containers and bringing in a world-leading ban on microbeads in cosmetics.
A number of campaign groups have praised Gove for raising the profile of environmental issues in the UK and revitalising Defra after a period of stagnation. However, despite advocating for a so-called ‘Green Brexit’, Gove has continually refused to guarantee that current environmental standards will be maintained once the UK leaves the EU, leading Labour MP Mary Creagh, Chair of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), to accuse him of “papering over the cracks”.
And while government actions on plastic pollution have grabbed headlines, not all issues have received the same treatment. Gove’s voting record on climate change is patchy, as shown by TheyWorkForYou, and his absence at crucial EU meetings where his counterparts are present has rightly been criticised.
“After positioning himself as the champion of environmentalism, it is deeply disappointing that Michael Gove could not be bothered to show up,” commented Green MEP Molly Scott Cato. “The Paris Agreement has energised other European governments to make rapid progress to tackle climate change, while the British Tories continue to produce hot air while planning for increased aviation and subsidising fossil fuels.
“We should also note the close connection between leading Brexiteers and climate change denial. Ensuring continued commitment to climate action is just another reason to stop Brexit. We can keep the world within 1.5 degrees but only if our politicians cut the crap and demonstrate real action.”