An ambitious agenda – Michael Gove’s first speech as Environment Secretary

Speeches on the environment by big political hitters aren’t exactly a common occurrence. So it’s not a surprise the environmentalists and conservationists were excitedly heading down to Woking this morning to hear what he had to say. But was it actually any good?

Basically, yes. Even the most curmudgeonly of environmentalists had praise for it.

The speech covered most of the key environmental issues. Michael Gove echoed our Helen Ghosh’s speech last year on the need for financial support for farming to be focused on public benefits. As we’ve said, environmental goods should be at the heart of this but there are others too. The Country Land and Business Association have set out their own thoughts today on this which are worth a read – another sign of the growing consensus in this area.

He also committed to publish Defra’s 25 year plan for the environment (or as it officially known, the Long Awaited 25 Year Plan for the Environment), and importantly talked about the Plan’s need to include measurable goals and reporting on success and failure.

Another issue for the environment is the issue of plastic waste. The speech included the decision to ban microbeads and also for a new strategy on waste and resources, both welcome moves. He also reported back on the Coalition’s government successful plastic bag charge – something that the National Trust pioneered ten years’ ago.

Finally, the Secretary of State’s speech had interesting signals of his own thinking on which lie behind the decisions he is starting to take. For Michael Gove, the EU hasn’t lived up to its words on the environment, instead being captured by producer interests on things like diesel pollution.

He attacked the “extractive and exploitative political systems” which have lain waste to natural resources (rather than say, market systems) but also praised the role of the state in helping new business sectors grow, as with the US government in Silicon Valley and how Israel’s tech sector has grown on the back of Israel’s investment in defence technology. This could be the model for the UK making more out of its own environmental expertise to grow environment exports.

As well as rejecting pure laissez-faire economics, Michael Gove also doesn’t seem keen on laissez-faire ecology, praising instead the active management of landscapes by farmers, as in the Lake District.

Today’s speech has nicely set up the range of plans, legislation and policies now needed to start delivering on the Government’s ambition for this generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it. Organisations like the National Trust stand ready to help politicians and policy makers to achieve that ambition.

Richard Hebditch

External Affairs Director

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