Cabinet Secretary sets out government's priorities for COP26 Summit, but is reticent on whether he wants the job of Summit President
Michael Gove this morning declared that he was "very happy with the job I have", while declining to be drawn on whether he wants the post of COP26 President in this week's imminent Cabinet reshuffle.
Speaking at a conference on COP26 hosted by think tank Green Alliance, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster sketched out the government's priorities for the crucial Glasgow Summit, offering assurances that a new wave of decarbonisation policies is in the pipeline and insisting Ministers are committed to working closely with the Scottish government to deliver a successful meeting.
But he provided no hint as to who will replace ousted COP26 President Claire O'Neill and offered no major revelations about the government's current planning for the Summit.
Asked if he would like the job of COP26 President, Gove said "I am very happy with the job that I have and I think there are many, many, many, many talented people who could do the job of COP President better than I could".
However, at the start of his speech Gove explained the role of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made him a "Prime Ministerial gopher" responsible for delivering Number 10's priorities across government. He added that Boris Johnson's top three priorities for the next year were preparing the UK for life outside the EU, "levelling up" the country's infrastructure and opportunities, and "critically and most importantly… the delivery of COP26".
As such, he offered a wide-ranging overview of the government's priorities for the Summit, explaining how the UK would call on all countries to deliver more ambitious national climate action plans - known as NDCs in the UN jargon - that need to be "sharper and more clearly defined" while also including climate resilience measures.
He also hinted that in the face of likely opposition from the US and Brazilian administrations the UK would look to work with cities and states to secure more ambitious climate pledges. And he highlighted the importance of China's upcoming Biodiversity COP, which he argued represented "two halves of the same process" in conjunction with the Glasgow COP Summit and as such should provide a route to securing close co-operation with China and other major emerging economies.
However, Gove dedicated much of his speech to highlighting how it was critical that the UK "demonstrate leadership" and show other countries that deep decarbonisation can be achieved alongside economic success.
Speaking just ahead of Johnson's announcement later today of a new £5bn green cycling and bus funding package, Gove said that while politicians tended to celebrate the UK's decarbonisation track record, observers should "be in no doubt the government recognises there is so much more that we need to do in order to demonstrate leadership - it is not enough to celebrate progress in the past, we need to be even more ambitious in the future".
As such, he highlighted the government's announcement last week that it wants to pull forward the phase out date for the sale of petrol and diesel cars to 2035 and confirmed a wave of new green policies is imminent.
"There are other initiatives being planned this year that my Cabinet colleagues will be announcing that will demonstrate Britain's commitment to ensuring, not just in transport, but in energy generation, in areas like construction and house building, and high energy intensive industries, we are serious about transformation."
He added that "the reasons we think it is so important to demonstrate this leadership is not just because we are hosting COP, but also because we believe the UK has a moral responsibility to lead as the first country in the world to industrialise".
"As we all know the Industrial Revolution relied - and still relies to a disproportionate extent - on the extraction and use of hydrocarbons," Gove said. "And we have a moral responsibility on the first in, first out basis to ensure the country that pioneered the Industrial Revolution and played the biggest role in the change in our climate, [has] a responsibility to lead a Green Industrial Revolution."
Gove also stressed the importance of promoting and accelerating the roll out of clean technologies, arguing that while he did not agree with those who talk about clean technology as providing "a Harry Potter's wand or sonic screwdriver that will magically absolve us all of difficult choices", he did see technology playing a crucial role in accelerating decarbonisation efforts. Citing the example of the technological revolution underway in road transport, he argued that governments setting ambitious targets could help to drive rapid clean technological progress in other fields such as aviation.
With regards the COP Summit itself, Gove said he wanted to see the "most transparent COP ever", making the case for citizens to be invited in and for live streaming to be provided as widely as security constraints allow.
Asked what would constitute a successful COP Summit, Gove was briefly heckled for suggesting there should be a "recognition" of the scale of the climate crisis, with one member of the audience arguing that the climate threat was "recognised 20 years ago" and more action was now needed.
Insisting that he had not finished, Gove concluded that a successful COP26 Summit would see an "acceptance of the need to act that leads to action which is irreversible, accelerating, and inclusive".
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