Michael Gove has committed “a moral and political failure” by failing to declare a climate emergency, the campaign group Extinction Rebellion have said following a meeting with the environment secretary.
The meeting was one of a series the group lined up this week with senior politicians. On Monday they met with London mayor Sadiq Khan, and on Tuesday morning they sat down with the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.
The group said they had a conversation with Gove about the urgent need to act, but said there was no solid commitment from the government about what the action would be.
“It was less shit than I thought it would be, but only mildly,” said Clare Farrell of Extinction Rebellion.
“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,” she said. “And that similarly a debt based economy doesn’t do right by young people, that it is creating a huge debt for them and that it has to change.
“Unfortunately what failed to emerge was an actual way forward. I’d like to remind him that we have a 1 percent chance of hitting 1.5 degrees - that urgency wasn’t in the room.”
Felix Ottaway O’Mahony, 14, secondary school student and member of XR Youth, who was also in the room said: “I’m frustrated that he [Michael Gove] avoided our demands and just spoke about what they’re already doing. Until our demands are met the rebellion has to continue.”
In a televised interview with ITB, Gove said he had had a “good conversation” with the Extinction Rebellion team.
He said he explained to them he is not a fan of direct action and said some of the steps they’ve taken in order to get their argument across are steps that he deprecates, but he also told them he believed that they’re motivated by high ideals he shares.
He said: “I think, yes that is absolutely important that we raise the level of knowledge that people have about the climate challenges we face. Their first point, their first argument they’ve raised is on the money. I think we do need to deliver a wider level of public understanding.
“Their second point, about the need to reduce emissions to zero, I think is right as well. I think the key question there is timescale – what is achievable? And on the third point, a citizen’s assembly, I’m open minded.
“My view is we need to involve as many people as possible in shaping solutions to the challenges we face, and are committed to exploring with the Mayor of London and others, how we can make sure that the public voice is heard even more resonantly in the future.”
Alanna Byrne, one of the organisers of Extinction Rebellion said although there had been “no concrete outcome” from the meeting with Gove, on a positive note, she said he was interested in the idea of a citizens assembly to tackle climate change, which is one of the group’s three demands.
She said Gove had said he would communicate with Khan regarding this.
She added that Gove claims he needs more agreement across government before he will declare a climate emergency.
The group were more positive following the meeting with McDonnell, saying that he had committed to engaging with them.
They said he acknowledged the failure of previous Labour Party policies to meeting environmental challenges, and said he would request that the group are allowed to present its case to the entire shadow cabinet on the climate and ecological emergency.
However, Extinction Rebellion said he did not commit to changing the proposed date in the Labour Party motion which currently aims to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, although the group said he said will consider a new target of 2030.
Savannah Lovelock, 19, a dance student and co-ordinator of Extinction Rebellion Youth, said: “I’m pleased with discussions that took place today and that we were met at the appropriate level by John McDonnell. However, I am still yet to see politicians listen to young people and do everything within their power to protect our future.”
Byrne said the protests would continue because politicians are “out of step” so Extinction Rebellion needs to stay out on the street.
The group are expecting to have more meetings with politicians and are hoping for more cross-party engagement, she said.
Meanwhile the group are calling on people to “write to their MPs and flood their offices.”
Defra has been approached by HuffPost UK for a comment.