Michael Gove tells MSPs he won’t commit to climate change target

Michael Gove today refused to commit to climate change guidance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 - five years later than the deadline the Scottish Government has set.

Michael Gove refused to be drawn on whether the UK government would adopt new targets on emissions to deal with climate change.

The UK environment secretary told MSPs that he could make no announcement on whether the government would adopt the Committee on Climate Change report recommendations.

Appearing before Holyrood's environment committee, via video link, to discuss the impact of Brexit, Mr Gove was pressed on when the UK government would respond to the CCC report.

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He said: "I'm afraid I can't make that announcement. One of the things about the UK government structure, in the same way as the Scottish Government has overlapping responsibilities, there are overlapping and separate responsibilities between mine and Greg Clark's department [business, energy and industrial strategy], and his is the lead department when it comes to responding to this report."

He added: "I have the very highest regard for the work of the CCC and their report makes a number of very powerful arguments which I welcome but the official government response will come later and from Greg. But I hope you can take from my comments my gratitude for the CCC's work, my appreciation of the urgent need for us all to do more and my acknowledgement that the Scottish Government and parliamentarians from every party are making the case for more urgent action as well which I welcome."

When asked by Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell if all UK government policies should be reviewed in light of the climate emergency, as has been announced by the Scottish Government, Mr Gove agreed.

"A whole range of policies will need to be reviewed: how we build homes and where we build them, to land use, to the whole question of not just energy generation itself but also how we decarbonise particularly energy intensive parts of the economy for example in steel and concrete production. I think we also need to look at how we design our transport system and we need to look at how we get more investment in science and innovation.

"It's an issue for every department in the UK government - there isn't a part of government that isn't affected by the challenge of climate change and the need to respond."

However when pressed for an answer on ruling out a third runway at Heathrow, Mr Gove said: "The proposal to develop a new runway has been carried forward by Heathrow and by the department of transport in a way that is sensitive to climate change and to air quality. There are lots of opinions about the future of aviation but most people recognise it will continue to be an important mode of transport in the future there are technological advances coming down the track to significantly reduce the impact on the environment of aviation."

And on targets to phase out petrol and diesel cars, he added: "All targets need to be kept under review. If you set an ambitious but achievable target and people are on course to meet that then you can make the target a bit more ambitious again."

But after the environment committee, convener Gillian Martin 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.

“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.”

And Mark Ruskell added: “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.”