The Cabinet minister insisted the Government will “field the strongest possible team” for the United Nations climate summit in Egypt next month, after the Prime Minister pulled out citing domestic challenges.
King Charles, who was advised by Downing Street not to attend Cop27, will host a reception marking the conference on Friday, with Mr Sunak due to say a few words, Buckingham Palace announced.
Mr Gove was forced defend the Government’s record on the environment after Cop26 president, Alok Sharma, suggested the Prime Minister’s snub of the conference could signal the UK is deprioritising green issues.
Mr Sharma told The Sunday Times: “I’m pretty disappointed that the prime minister is not going. I understand that he’s got a huge in tray of domestic issues that he has to deal with.
“But I would say that going to Cop27 would allow for engagement with other world leaders. And I think it does send a signal if the Prime Minister was to go about our renewed commitment on this issue.”
Before adding: “If you look at what happened in the Australian elections in the past few months, one of the reasons that the conservatives didn’t win through is because people didn’t feel they took this issue seriously enough.”
In response, however, Mr Gove called on critics to judge the Government by its actions on environmental issues going forward.
“I know that across Government we want to field the strongest possible team at Cop but there are strong pressures on the Prime Minister’s diary,” Mr Gove told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.
“Even more important than who goes is what we do,” he told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, saying the UK is the “fastest” decarbonising economy in the G7 and is moving towards electric vehicles and renewable energy.
“Judge us by our actions,” he said.
Former Conservative chancellor George Osborne added his voice to the backlash, saying Mr Sunak had “mishandled” the situation.
Touting the Tories’ environmental record, he told Channel 4’s The Andrew Neil Show: “Why trash that because you don’t want to get on a plane to Egypt?”
The King’s reception at Buckingham Palace on November 4, on the eve of the UN conference in Egypt, will “bring together over 200 international business leaders, decision makers and NGOs to mark the end of the United Kingdom’s presidency of Cop26 and look ahead to the Cop27 summit in Egypt,” the Palace said.
Charles is a long-time champion of environmental causes and spoke at last year’s Cop26 event in Glasgow.
But Downing Street on Friday said Liz Truss’s Government had agreed with the monarch that it was not the “right occasion” for him to go to Egypt.