LONDON — Donald Trump’s climate-skepticism will mean the U.K. may have to reach out to regional and city leaders in the U.S. to help deliver global agreement at this year’s U.N. climate summit, senior U.K. minister Michael Gove suggested today.
Gove, a former environment secretary, said his country has a “moral responsibility … to lead a green industrial revolution” and holds a “debt to the planet” because of its history as the first nation to industrialize. The U.K. will play host to the international summit in Glasgow in November.
He insisted that he does not know who would be given the role of COP26 president following the sacking two weeks ago of Claire O’Neill. The role is set to be assigned as part of a wider ministerial reshuffle of Boris Johnson’s government on Thursday. Gove currently serves as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with a wide-ranging ministerial brief, and is hotly tipped to land the job.
Speaking at the Green Alliance conference in London, Gove said: “I shan’t mention any politicians by name in a critical fashion. However, it’s important in the United States and in Brazil that we recognize that there will be people at the state and the city level who can play a vital role in driving the change that we all need to see.”
Trump’s fiercely skeptical stance on climate change — he once described it as a “hoax” and has shown no interest in engaging with global efforts to cut emissions — is regarded by U.K. officials planning COP26 as “the elephant in the room.” However, several U.S. states, including California, have pushed back against Trump’s stance and introduced their own measures.
Despite acknowledging the likely impossibility of bringing the U.S. and Brazil onside, Gove said “the right political framework for action” is in place across the globe, thanks to the increasing urgency of the climate crisis demonstrated by the Australian bushfires, and activism around the world spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough and others.
He pledged that COP26 would, in that spirit, be “the most transparent COP ever” and committed to livestreaming leaders’ discussions. “In so doing we can better hold to account all the political and other leaders that are there,” he said. “If they say one thing on the steps of the conference hall and another thing in private session then that can, and has, frustrated progress in the past.”
He said that the U.K. would engage closely with countries “who in the past perhaps have been reluctant to acknowledge how critical and central their role is,” citing China.
The U.K. itself, he added, would try to set an example following up on last week’s commitment to phase out gasoline, diesel and hybrid cars by 2035, with further carbon-cutting measures to be announced in the transport, construction and energy sectors.
Technology would play a role in the energy transition, Gove added, citing the shift to electric vehicles and, in the longer term, aviation. But he acknowledged that there would be no “Harry Potter wand or Doctor Who sonic screwdriver that will magically absolve us all of difficult choices in the future.”