The environmental movement let out a groan of exasperation when Michael Gove took over the reins as UK Environment Minister earlier this year. A long list of anti-greens or time-servers had filled the post since 2010 and the only environmental thing we knew above Gove was that, in his divisive stint as Education Secretary, he had apparently considered taking climate change off the national curriculum. So when he stepped up to the podium at the Conservative Party Conference, expectations were rock bottom. But then he said:

Global warming threatens the balance of life on earth. Plastics in our oceans, waste in our rivers and nitrogen oxide in our air endanger our fellow animals and harm our children’s health. Precious habitats – from ancient woodlands in our own country to the great green lungs of our tropical rainforests – are being lost – and with them a home for threatened wildlife.

Ears pricked up. Most of the rest of the speech was a pitch for a 'Green Brexit' and the only concrete pledge was to consult on a plastic bottle deposit scheme, but those words suggested he understood Sustainability. The speech got a cautious welcome.

But Gove's big 'wow' movement was his announcement earlier this month of support for a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, linked to bee decline. This would be a big move by any minister, but to see a Tory take on industrial and farming interests was quite something. And then came the announcement that the Government is considering taxing all single-use plastic coffee cups and takeaway containers in this week's budget. Suddenly the unlikeliest eco-hero is the curious Mr Gove.

What heartens me even more is the reception to these significant moves from the eco-commentariat. I was expecting a deluge of  "He's only doing this because..." or 'whataboutery' but most commentators have taken Gove at face value. What I hope results is a race across the political spectrum to out-green the others. The Government's reasonably impressive Clean Growth Strategy and Labour's recent proposal to cost climate change into public policy decision have ratcheted up the bar on the low carbon economy, adding to the sense of momentum.

And as they say, in politics, momentum is everything.



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