‘Stop dragging your feet’: Michael Gove refuses to commit to net-zero target at Holyrood committee

Ben Wray

Gove claimed the challenge of climate change showed the benefits of the union, despite the Scottish Government’s emissions reduction ambition exceeding that of the UK Government’s

  • Secretary of State for Environment refuses to commit to new Committee on Climate Change expert recommendation for net-zero by 2050 emissions target
  • The Scottish Government has already committed to a 2045 net-zero target, but that could be hindered if there is no increased ambition from the UK Government
  • Michael Gove said to the Holyrood committee that he did “believe a higher level of ambition is required, but an official response to the CCC will “come later”
  • Gove also answered questions on devolved competencies and future trade deals post-Brexit

MSPS FROM the SNP, Labour and the Scottish Greens have all condemned the UK Government’s lack of action on climate change, after the Environment Secretary refused to commit to a net-zero emissions by 2050 target at a Holyrood evidence hearing today [15 May].

The Committee on Climate Change’s latest report published earlier this month said that it was now credible for the UK Government to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050, with Scotland able to reach net-zero by 2045.

The Scottish Government immediately accepted the advice of the CCC, but the UK Government has yet to do so.

Asked at the Scottish Parliament’s committee for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform whether he could make such a commitment, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, responded via video link: “I’m afraid I can’t make that announcement now and today.”

READ MORE: Parliament must be ready for more ‘difficult decisions’ to tackle Climate Emergency, @ScotGov say

Gove said that an official response from the UK Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department to the CC “will come later”, adding that the CCC “makes a number of very powerful arguments that I welcome” and that he did “believe a higher level of ambition is required.”

The Scottish Government’s new targets may not be able to be met without further ambition on the part of the UK Government due to its control over key areas such as energy infrastructure, but Gove told the committee that the global challenge of climate change was an argument for the unity of the United Kingdom. 

“The more one thinks about the challenges and opportunities of climate change, the more one realises the benefits of the United Kingdom in that respect,” he said.

Asked if he would follow the example of the Scottish Government and commit to reviewing every government policy to see if enough is being done to lower emissions, Gove refused to make such a commitment, but said “a whole range” of policy areas had to be looked at, mentioning housing and transport as areas where decarbonisation policy had to be advanced specifically.

READ MORE: ‘Act as if this truth is real’: Climate change campaigners respond to First Minister’s declaration of a climate emergency

Gove defended Heathrow runway expansion, a project that has come under intense criticism from environmental activists, but said it would be done in a way which was “sensitive” to climate change and air quality.

He said the UK’s 2040 ban on petrol and diesel cars – 10 years ahead of the Scottish Government’s target – should be reviewed, saying the target could be made “a wee bit more ambitious”.

Commenting, SNP MSP Gillian Martin, chair of the environment committee, said: “Climate change is a real and serious threat. I was disappointed that Michael Gove refused to commit to the CCC report’s targets. He has a duty to respond quickly, as the Scottish Government already has.

“Scotland takes our global responsibilities seriously. While we already proposed some of the toughest targets anywhere in the world, we’ve committed to do more and go further – following the best advice available. 

“But we can only do so much on our own. The UK government must play its part – and Gove’s failure to sign up to the action required threatens not just the rest of the UK, but also Scotland’s ability to meet our new net zero target date of 2045.

READ MORE: Jon Southerington: How we can go zero carbon in Orkney

“The Tories must recognise that we face a climate emergency that requires action today. They should stop dragging their feet and commit to the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change.

“It’s time for the UK to follow Scotland’s lead – we can’t let the Tories hold Scotland back.”

Scottish Greens Climate Change spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP, who asked Gove about the net-zero target, said following the committee: “This is a climate emergency and there is no time to waste. Last week’s report from the Climate Change Committee is crystal clear that the first step is to announce a net-zero emissions target for the UK. The UK Government must take the lead, but they appear rudderless and unable to make the rapid and decisive decisions that are needed.

“I was disappointed that Michael Gove, having apparently recognised the climate emergency, came to the Committee with little new to say and no clarity as to how and when the UK Government will respond. All policies need to be reviewed now to increase ambition and ensure they’re aligned behind a zero carbon target, including scrapping plans to expand Heathrow and ratcheting up ambition on phasing in electric vehicles.”

READ MORE: Analysis: Defeat of aviation lobby first win for those who take Scotland’s climate emergency seriously

Scottish Labour’s Climate Change and Environment spokesperson Claudia Beamish said: “Our planet is facing a climate emergency but Michael Gove is refusing to act quickly enough.

“The Committee on Climate Change is clear that the UK must meet net-zero emissions by 2050.

“We all know Michael Gove is not a fan of experts, but it is time he listened and took action before it is too late.”

Gove was questioned over other aspects of environment and agriculture policy during the evidence session, including powers returning to the UK after Brexit from the EU over agriculture, which he said would be returned to the Scottish Parliament.

READ MORE: New @ScotGov export-focused strategy may clash with new climate strategy, think-tank argues

Scottish Green MSP John Finnie said Gove was undermining the devolution settlement with proposals to selectively increase funding in areas of devolved competence. Gove denied this, saying he “respected” devolved competences, and would only seek to increase UK Government spending in devolved areas in collaboration with the Scottish Government.

Asked if he knew better than the Scottish Government and the devolved parliament on devolved issues, the Environment Secretary said: “No.”

Asked about future post-Brexit trade deals, Gove said that negotiations would legally have to be the responsibility of the UK Government as it would be an international treaty, but sought to reassure MSPs that Scottish parliamentarians’ advice ahead of those negotiations would be sought, raising salmon and whisky specifically as areas to be “protected”.

He said geographical Indicators (GIs) on goods like Scotch whisky would continue to be protected even if there was a no-deal Brexit. Asked if GI’s would be a red line in negotiations, he said the government are “absolutely committed” to protecting the geographical indicators.

Picture courtesy of Policy Exchange

CS FORUM 30 MAY: Climate Change – How do we turn words into actions?