Michael Gove has acknowledged that the Government needs to do more to show leadership on global warming, as the UK prepares to host crucial UN climate talks.
The senior Cabinet minister refused to be drawn on whether he would be given the role of president of the COP26 summit, taking place in Glasgow in November – or even whether he would want the top job.
But he laid out the Government’s ambitions for the talks, including working with people at a state and city level in countries such as Brazil and the US in an implicit criticism of the climate stance of US President Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
The talks were officially launched by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week without anyone officially at the helm as Claire O’Neill had been sacked as president a few days earlier – with speculation that Mr Gove may get the role.
Speaking at conference held by environmental think-tank Green Alliance, looking at the UK’s hosting of the international talks, Mr Gove said he – like everyone – would have to wait a few more days for the announcement of the new president.
Pressed on whether he would like the role, he said: “I am very happy with the job that I have and there are many, many, many, many talented people who could do the job of COP president better than I ever could.”
The former environment secretary and Brexit planning chief said the UK has a moral responsibility to lead on climate change.
We have to be even more ambitious in the futureMichael Gove
He pointed to the UK’s achievements in cutting emissions so far, but said: “Even as we do celebrate what we’ve achieved, be in no doubt the Government recognises there’s so much more we need to do in order genuinely to demonstrate leadership.
“It is not enough to look at the trajectory in the past. We have to be even more ambitious in the future.”
Following the Government’s announcement on bringing a ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles forward to 2035, he said there would be further initiatives through the year on areas such as energy generation, construction, house-building and energy intensive industries.
And he said: “One of the reasons we think it’s so important is not just because we’re hosting COP but also because we believe the UK has a moral responsibility to lead.”
As the leader of the Industrial Revolution, which powered the change in the climate, the UK has “a responsibility to lead a green industrial revolution as well, in order to show we acknowledge our responsibility, our debt to the planet and our debt to other people”, he said.
Mr Gove added that the talks needed to see greater climate action by countries, a recognition of the loss and damage suffered by poorer nations as a result of warming temperatures, the need for climate funding and the role of nature-based solutions.
"There are people across the world at the state and city level who'll be vital to the success of #COP26."@michaelgove speaks about the need for sub-national actors to push for bold action on climate in 2020. #CountdownToCOP pic.twitter.com/iTjytEDZ6U— Green Alliance (@GreenAllianceUK) February 11, 2020
And he said he does not believe that technology could “create some sort of Harry Potter wand or Doctor Who sonic screwdriver that will magically absolve us all of difficult choices”.
But he said setting “stretching but achievable goals” could help engineer scientific and technological changes in order to meet carbon cutting goals.
He was interrupted as he answered a question on what would count as a success in the talks, with a member of audience calling out that more is needed than the recognition of the need to act, which first came 20 years ago.
Mr Gove went on to say that a successful outcome would be if “the acceptance of the need to act leads to action which is irreversible, accelerating and inclusive”.
The UN climate talks in November are the most important since the Paris Agreement to curb global warming was secured in 2015, with countries under pressure to ramp up ambition on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
The run-up to the summit will require a major diplomatic effort from the UK to secure ambitious action from countries.
Ministers have been warned that they need to strengthen domestic policies to meet legal goals to cut emissions to net zero by 2050.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the conference it is “vital” the UN summit is a success, and that the Scottish Government would work “closely and constructively” with the UK Government on it.
She said she was concerned about the sacking of Claire O’Neill as president of the summit, but hoped those concerns would be laid to rest when a new person is appointed this week.
She set out action Scotland is taking to cut emissions to net zero by 2045, and said the UK had to “significantly up the scale of what we’re doing in every single area”.
The UK cannot “copy and paste” its existing plans on tackling climate change into new commitments known as nationally determined contributions that countries are expected to come forward with this year, she said.