In what could be his last speech in the job, with a new prime minister replacing Theresa May next week, Mr Gove is warning that time is running out to repair the damage done to the planet.
In a speech at Kew Gardens, he is pledging that the UK will play a major role in international summits on biodiversity and the oceans next year and also pass legislation to improve the environment.
Mr Gove, who is being tipped for a move in a cabinet reshuffle planned by Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson, will say: “The scale of action required may be daunting, but the need to act is imperative.
“There is a political need to act – because we cannot leave this planet to the next generation more polluted, more dangerous, denuded of its natural riches and increasingly inhospitable to all life.
“There is an economic need to act – because unless we restore our natural capital then we will have depleted soils incapable of yielding harvests or sustaining livestock, we will have oceans with more plastic than fish, we will have dried up or contaminated water sources and we will have severe weather events endangering lives and livelihoods.
“And there is a moral need to act – because, as Margaret Thatcher reminded us, we do not have a freehold on this planet, it is not ours to dispose of as we wish, we are partners in the great chain of evolution with the rest of nature and endowed as we are with reason we therefore have the responsibility to steward and protect.”
In his speech, Mr Gove will declare: “Time is running out to make the difference we need; to repair the damage we as a species have done to the planet we have plundered.
“Nature is in retreat – we have seen a catastrophic loss of biodiversity across the globe as a result of man’s actions.
“An estimated 80% of the original forest that covered the Earth 8,000 years ago has been cleared, damaged or fragmented.
“Some scientists assess the rate at which species are becoming extinct at 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural rate would be.”
He will add: “Nature is in retreat just as global warming accelerates. We know that climate change has driven rising sea levels.
“In the 20th century the oceans rose around 15cm and the rate of increase has since quickened.
“Just since 2000, levels have risen around six centimetres, based on a global-average rise of 3.2mm a year.
“Our seas are storing increasing amounts of heat: around half of all ocean warming has occurred since 1997.
“Even as we take action to slow carbon dioxide pollution now, physics dictates that the climate will keep heating up for decades to come.”
On the UK’s role in tackling climate change, Mr Gove will say: “Internationally, we are showing leadership and our higher level of ambition at a series of international summits in 2020, a crucial year for deciding the future of our planet.
“The summits – to agree new deals for our ocean, for nature and for the climate – offer the chance for nations to unite around environmental action. It is an opportunity the world must not miss.”
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