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Extinction Rebellion: Michael Gove admits need for urgent action

Planting more trees, restoring peatlands to health and using new technology to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere should all be pursued as a matter of urgency, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, has told climate change campaigners.

His meeting with Extinction Rebellion on Tuesday produced pledges from the government to reduce carbon emissions to “net zero” but without a timeline, though Gove said he was “open” to a more ambitious target.

It was an unusual step for an environment secretary to agree to meet such forthright activists who in recent weeks blocked motor traffic across London and disrupted the Houses of Parliament and the stock exchange.

Clare Farrell, one of the Extinction Rebellion activists who met Gove, said: “It was less shit than I thought it would be, but only mildly.

“I was surprised to hear a radical reflection on our economic paradigm from Michael Gove when he talked about how our model is extractive and destructive, and that we need to move to a circular model [of economic production].

“And [he agreed that] a debt-based economy doesn’t do right by young people, that it is creating a huge debt for them and it has to change.”

The success of the current generation of activists in forcing political attention on climate change is unprecedented and appears to have taken politicians by surprise.

Previous climate change protests over the last two decades, which have included attempts to shut down a power station, Big Ben and fracking sites, among other actions, have been dismissed as stunts. Never before have such actions of civil disobedience resulted in politicians from all parties agreeing to meet the activists and set out new plans in response.

On Wednesday, the government’s statutory advisers on climate change are expected to set out ways in which the UK can reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, including reductions from transport, heating and energy production.

But the Extinction Rebellion activists, who also met the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, on Tuesday and the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, on Monday, were unsatisfied with the response from politicians so far.

“I’m pleased with discussions that took place today and that we were met at the appropriate level,” said Savannah Lovelock, a coordinator of the youth wing of the movement, after meeting Gove and McDonnell. But she added: “I am still yet to see politicians listen to young people and do everything within their power to protect our future.”

Further plans to tackle climate change are expected to be set out by the Labour party overnight, before a debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Extinction Rebellion, whose colourful protests in recent weeks have included activists gluing themselves to the glass of the public gallery in the Commons, and to the London Stock Exchange, as well as disrupting roads in London and other cities, called for ministers to “tell the truth” on climate change and for emissions to be net zero by 2025, instead of mid-century as ministers are suggesting.

They also urged the government to “create and be led by” the decisions of a citizens’ assembly on climate change and ecological justice.


What is Extinction Rebellion?

Extinction Rebellion is an international protest group that uses non-violent civil disobedience to campaign on environmental issues. Demonstration have included blocking bridges to traffic in London and a semi-naked protest inside the House of Commons

The group says climate breakdown threatens all life on Earth, and so it is rebelling against politicians who ‘have failed us’, to provoke radical change that will stave off a climate emergency.

Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Anadolu

Politicians appear to have been taken by surprise by the upsurge in climate activism from Extinction Rebellion, but polls, including one by Greenpeace published on Monday, show there is widespread support among the public for actions that would reduce the impacts of climate change, even if some come at a cost.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “Climate activists, young and old, have put the UK government under enormous pressure to officially recognise the climate emergency we are facing.

“There is a real feeling of hope in the air that after several decades of climate campaigning, the message is beginning to sink in. The government clearly needs help as they are not sure how to respond.”