In Depth

Did Michael Gove try to stop schools teaching about climate change?

Campaigners are concerned about the new Environment Secretary's green credentials, but do they have just cause?

Michael Gove's appointment back to the cabinet has surprised many, but the news he is to be the new Environment Secretary has particularly worried green campaigners. 

"Putting Michael Gove in charge of the environment is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house," Lib Dem MP Ed Davey, a former climate change secretary, told The Guardian. "It's bad news," he continued, adding anyone who cared about the environment should be "deeply worried".

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas echoed these concerns, saying it was hard to "think of many politicians as ill-equipped for the role of environment secretary as Michael Gove".

She added: "His record of voting against measures to halt climate change and his attempt to wipe the subject from our children's [school] curriculum show him entirely unfit to lead our country in tackling one of the greatest threats we face."

Lucas was referring to an accusation that in 2013, when he was education secretary, Gove tried to remove climate change from the national geography curriculum, something he denies.

A spokesman for Defra, the MP's new department, said yesterday: "The Secretary of State wanted to enhance climate change in the national curriculum when he was education secretary. It was never his intention to remove it."

So what does Gove's appointment actually mean for the UK's environment policies?

What is Gove's voting record on the issues?

Generally, Gove has voted against measures to prevent climate change, according to They Work For You.

In 2008, as secretary of state for children, he was absent during the second and third readings of the climate change bill, while last year, he voted not to reduce the permitted carbon dioxide rate of new homes.

In total, between 2008 and 2016, he voted for measures to prevent climate change five times, measures against 12 times and was absent 11 times.

What has he said on climate change?

Gove describes himself as a shy green, writing in 2004 that "the reality of climate change is particularly obvious. Ten of the past 14 years have been the hottest on record worldwide."

As for the furore over the change to the national curriculum, the BBC's Sean Coughlan says: "Although Gove might have become the lightning rod in this row, it's worth noting that much of the controversial coverage about cutting climate change from geography was not about Gove at all."

But, adds the journalist, a source close to the discussions at the time said there were attempts, not necessarily by Gove, not to "stress the human causes" of climate change as an attempt to placate the "right wing of the Conservative Party".

In 2014, speaking at the launch of the Conservative Environment Network, Gove reiterated his views, saying: "I think it's important that children understand the science that underpins climate change and that's why it's always in the curriculum that we've been drawing up."

What has Gove said on environmental protections?

Earlier this year, Gove told The Independent he was completely against the EU habitats directive forcing construction companies to create new green space if they built on or nearby certain types of terrain, such as heathland.

"I am very, very keen – I may be odd in this respect as Conservative MP – on having more homes built in my constituency," he said. "It's a social and economic good. But homes built in my constituency are governed by the habitats directive.

"The habitats directive holds that if you build a home within five kilometres of a particular type of terrain, heathland, then you have to allocate, at the same time, something called suitable alternative natural green space to offset the environmental impact.

"As a result, my constituents, and perhaps your children, find homes more expensive and mobility in this country impeded."

Gove has also put forward his support for a cull of badgers and supported the Tory's desire to relegalise fox hunting.

"It would be strange for an environment secretary to be against two long-standing Tory policies, but his support for badger culling to curb the spread of TB in cows and likelihood of voting in favour of scrapping Labour's Hunting Act is likely to draw criticism from environmentalists," says the Huffington Post.


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