Michael Gove’s speech ‘The unfozen moment – delivering a Green Brexit‘ is very, very good. It’s, by far, the best speech made by a government environment minister since at least 2010.
Not only is it erudite and clever, it shows a better grasp of the issues than his two immediate predecessors could muster after months or years in the role. We have a serious player at Defra who says he wants to do some serious good and we should support him in those aims. Although Mr Gove has a lot to live down in his past he is making a very good attempt to get that done as quickly as possible. Please read the whole thing, but here are some quotes (and I will come back to this with more comment later in the day):
‘I am an environmentalist first because I care about the fate of fellow animals, I draw inspiration from nature and I believe we need beauty in our lives as much as we need food and shelter. We can never be fully ourselves unless we recognise that we are shaped by forces, biological and evolutionary, that tie us to an earth we share with others even as we dream of capturing the heavens.
But I am also an environmentalist because of hard calculation as well as the promptings of the heart. We need to maintain and enhance the natural world around us, or find ourselves facing disaster.
Unless we take the right environmental action we risk seeing more species die out, with potentially undreamt of consequences in terms of the health and balance of nature. We risk flood damage to the homes in which we live and devastation to the islands others know as their only home. We will see the forward march of deserts compelling populations to be on the move and the growing shortage of water creating new conflicts and exacerbating old rivalries.‘
‘I deeply regret President Trump’s approach towards the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. I sincerely hope the recent indications that the President may be minded to think again do signal a change of heart. International co-operation to deal with climate change is critical if we’re to safeguard our planet’s future and the world’s second biggest generator of carbon emissions can’t simply walk out of the room when the heat is on. It’s our planet too and America needs to know we can only resolve this problem together.’
‘Environmental organisations – from WWF to the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth – enjoy memberships in the tens and hundreds of thousands, the support of millions more and a capacity to move hearts more powerful than any other set of institutions in our civil society.
Their campaigning energy and idealism, while occasionally uncomfortable for those of us in power, who have to live in a world of compromise and deal-making, is vital to ensuring we continue to make progress in protecting and enhancing our environment.
And on everything from alerting us all to the danger posed by plastics in our oceans and nitrogen oxide in our air, to the threats posed to elephants by poaching and cod by over-fishing, environmental organisations have driven Governments to make progress. They have demonstrated that we can halt and reverse those trends and forces degrading the natural world and we can improve the environment we are handing on to the next generation.‘
‘The decision to leave the European Union has been interpreted in many ways, and I won’t revisit the debates which led to that decision being made. But now that decision has been made, it creates new opportunities, and challenges, for the British Government. And nowhere more so than in the area of environmental policy.
We now have an historic opportunity to review our policies on agriculture, land use, biodiversity, woodlands, marine conservation, fisheries, pesticide licensing, chemical regulation, animal welfare, habitat management, waste, water purity, air quality and so much more.’
‘In this unfrozen moment new possibilities occur.
I can understand why, for some, this is a moment of profound concern.
The European Union has, in a number of ways, been a force for good environmentally. Beaches are cleaner, habitats are better protected and pesticides more effectively regulated as a consequence of agreements reached since we entered the EU. And I have no intention of weakening the environmental protections we have put in place while in the EU.
But the EU has not always been a force for good environmentally. In this decade alone, the EU has ordered member states to vote against international action to protect polar bears and to abstain on measures to protect bluefin tuna. And as the UK Climate Change Act shows, this country is more than capable of bringing in our own strong legislation to protect the environment, independent of the EU.
Environmental policy must also be insulated from capture by producer interests who put their selfish agenda ahead of the common good. And here the EU has been weak recently. The EU’s handling of diesel emissions, the way in which car manufacturers rigged testing procedures, and the consequent risk to public health which we have to deal with, do not reflect well on the EU’s internal processes. The EU’s laboratory-based mechanisms for testing emissions have proven inadequate, and allowed manufacturers to game – or directly cheat – the system. Outside the EU, we can do much better. We will be saying more when our Air Quality Plan is published later this month.‘
‘But farming is so much more than a business. 70% of our land is farmed – beautiful landscape in so many cases has not happened by accident but has been actively managed. The Lake District, which recently secured World Heritage Site status from UNESCO, is both a breath-taking natural landscape but also a home to upland farmers whose work keeps those lakes and hills as Wordsworth saw them, to the delight of millions of visitors.
Support for farmers in areas like the Lake District, upland Wales or the Scottish borders is critical to keeping our countryside healthy. Indeed, whether it’s hill farmers or island crofters, or those running small family farms in England and Northern Ireland, there is a need to ensure that the human ecology of rural areas is protected.
But while continued support is critically important, so is reform. And indeed I have been struck in the conversations I have had with organisations like the NFU, The Farmers Union of Wales and the CLA that it is farmers themselves who most want the CAP to change. I have particularly appreciated the open, constructive and imaginative engagement shown by the NFU’s passionate and energetic President Meurig Raymond.‘
‘And from all the conversations I have had so far I with farmers, land owners and managers I know there is a growing appetite for a new system of agricultural support which puts environmental protection and enhancement first. Our approach should be, in Byron’s words, to love not man the less but nature more.
That means support for woodland creation and tree planting as we seek to meet our aim of eleven million more trees. Because trees are not only a source of beauty and wonder, living evidence of our investment for future generations, they are also a carbon sink, a way to manage flood risk and a habitat for precious species.
We should also support those land owners and managers who cultivate and protect the range of habitats which will encourage biodiversity. Heathland and bog, meadow and marsh, estuaries and hedgerows alongside so many other landscapes need care and attention if they are to provide home to the growing diversity of animal and plant life we should wish to encourage. Doing this well depends on developing the skills and farming practices of land owners and managers. Understanding how to create and protect habitats should be as much a part of good farming as understanding the latest crop and soil science.’
‘But while natural beauty moves us deep in our souls, environmental policy also needs to be rooted, always and everywhere, in science. There will, of course, always be a need to make judgements about the best method of achieving environmental goals, in ways which improve rather than upend people’s lives. But it is only by adherence to scientific method, through recognising the vital importance of testing and re-testing hypotheses in the face of new evidence, through scrupulous adherence to empirical reasoning, that we can be certain our policies are the best contemporary answer to the eternal questions of how we live well and honour the world we have inherited and must pass on to our children.‘
‘Outside the European Union there is scope for Britain not just to set the very highest standards in marine conservation, but also to be a global leader in environmental policy across the board. Informed by rigorous scientific analysis, we can develop global gold standard policies on pesticides and chemicals, habitat management and biodiversity, animal welfare and biosecurity, soil protection and river management and so many other areas.‘
‘I have set out what I believe is a deliberately ambitious agenda today because I believe the times demand it. Leaving the EU gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to reform how we manage agriculture and fisheries, how we care for our land, our rivers and our seas, how we recast our ambition for our country’s environment, and the planet. In short, it means a Green Brexit. When we speak as a Government of Global Britain it is not just as a leader in security or an advocate for trade that we should conceive of our global role but also a champion of sustainable development, an advocate for social justice, a leader in environmental science, a setter of gold standards in protecting and growing natural capital, an innovator in clean, green, growth and an upholder of the moral imperative to hand over our planet to the next generation in a better condition than we inherited it. That is my department’s driving ambition – it should be central to our national mission.‘