Michael Gove urges ‘most transparent ever COP’ for Glasgow

Former Environment Secretary Michael Gove has laid out his big asks for COP26 preparations and denied rumours that he will replace former Energy Minister Claire O'Neill as the event's president during this week's cabinet reshuffle.

Michael Gove urges ‘most transparent ever COP’ for Glasgow

The new COP26 president will be announced this week

After giving a keynote speech at a Green Alliance event in London this morning (11 February), Gove was asked whether he had been offered the role as COP26 president and whether he would be keen to take it. O’Neill was ousted from the role at the end of January and, since then, David Cameron and William Hague have both turned down offers to take up the mantle.

Gove said: “I’m very happy with the job that I have and I think there are many, many, many types of people who could do the job of COP president better than I could.”

“Whenever the next president is appointed, I will let him or her know [my big ask],” he continued placing audible emphasis on the word “her”.

Given that O’Neil is reported to have been removed from her post due to criticisms of her performance at recent international diplomatic events, and that Cameron said in his declination of the role that a current Minister should receive the promotion, Andrea Leadsom and Theresa Villiers are both being hotly tipped – alongside Gove – as potential successors to O’Neill.

Gove also spoke to O’Neill’s claims that Government planning to deliver COP26 is already too far behind schedule for the conference to live up to expectations.

He said: “I believe that we, this year, with the help of people in this room and beyond, can see genuine success.

“There has been, I believe, not just in the UK, but around the world, politically, a realisation of the scale of the challenge and the urgency for action. We’ve all seen [this] as a result of the advocacy – and I inevitably have to mention figures like David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg – but more than that, the advocacy of grassroots movements…”

“There is a realisation in political chambers and parties that anxiety, anger and the determination for change are developing. This, I believe, creates the political framework for action.”

On the latter point, Gove argued that recent wildfires in Australia had brought awareness of the urgency of climate change “closer to home” and proven to all stakeholders in the COP conversation that the planet is “going through a profound change”.

Gove also pointed to “close collaboration” between Ministers in Westminster, Scotland and conference co-host Italy as a reason for optimism in the face of the turbulence of recent weeks. He said these governments are “determination to make this work”, “whatever their other differences”.

Policy shifts

With pressure building on the government to bolster its 2050 net-zero target with shorter-term,  sector-specific policy frameworks ahead of COP26, Gove highlighted the recent decision to move the ban on new petrol and diesel car sales from 2040 to 2035 and suggested that further moves will be announced on decarbonising transport – the UK’s most-emitting sector – imminently.

Gove also confirmed that shorter-term policy moves would be brought in to decarbonise heavy industry, construction and energy generation within the next year, but did not provide further details.

“There is a natural tendency among politicians to say ‘look at our record, look at how brilliantly we’ve done’,” he said. “But even as we do celebrate what we’ve achieved, be in no doubt that the Government recognises there is so much more that we need to do in order, genuinely, to demonstrate leadership.”

When asked how the UK could possibly claim leadership when it continues to fund fossil fuel project abroad – particularly in Africa’s lowest-income regions and other developing areas – Gove said the UK will make announcements around re-assessments of overseas energy and environmental spending within the next 12 months.

Big asks

Aside from a stable presidency and domestic policy changes, Gove used his platform to set out a string of other “big asks” for COP26’s preparations and delivery.

He firstly urged progress on the creation of an agreed Loss and Damage framework – something which was due to happen at COP25, but which was ultimately delayed. Gove said that any agreed framework must not only serve regions and nations which will be affected by physical climate impacts in the future, but offer repayments to Small Island States which are already affected.

Gove then turned to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, which have been touted as one of the key points of this November’s conference. He said that all counties will need to make their NDCs “sharper, better defined and more realistically delivered” in light of the IPCC’s special report on global warming, noting that the UK will reveal its updated contribution shortly.

Transparency, finance system shifts and backing for nature-based solutions were the last of Gove’s asks.

On the former, Gove said he would like to see COP26 made “the most transparent COP ever”, with citizens invited to attend and all discussions live-streamed. Such a move would build on the Government’s creation of a Citizen’s Assembly on Climate Change. Gove said that by live-streaming,  “we can better hold political leaders to account if they say one thing on the steps of the conference hall and another in private sessions”.

“That can, and has, frustrated progress in the past,” he added.

On finance, Gove would like to see the conference’s agreement text commit attendees change the way the world’s financial flows work, diverting capital away from “brown assets” and the “extractive economics of the past”, towards “industries and technologies that will help determine a better future”. He noted that many private investors, including pension funds, are already making this transition, but that political interventions are likely needed to unify and spur action at scale.

Finally, on nature-based solutions, Gove urged for the framing of COP26 and this year’s biodiversity summit in China as “two halves of a whole process”. He suggested that the creation of the new Agriculture Bill has marked the start of the UK’s domestic efforts to join nature-based solutions with economics and climate action.

Sarah George

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