Rio+20: Politicians Between A Rock And A Hard Place

between a rock and a hard place

So Rio+20 came to a close last Friday with a document – The Future We Want – apparently showing us the way to a more sustainable future. The problem is that scientists, environmentalists and other key stakeholders poured scorn on the document almost as soon as it had been released.

This illustrates a thought I’ve had for a while now that politicians are not always in the best position to engage in the sorts of activities that are required to bring real change – well not at the speed it is needed anyway. Instead they are in the incredibly difficult position of trying to please all parties involved which includes voters, big business, lobby groups and scientists.

Now I am the first to appreciate the difficult choices that have to be made in countries all across the world because the world economy isn’t exactly booming right now, and in the UK it’s doing quite the opposite. We have to ensure that every person is properly looked after in terms of education, healthcare and housing among other things and the environment often gets swept aside by seemingly more urgent matters.

As a voter, I don’t necessarily agree with much of what the government is doing but we have to face the fact that they were still a democratically appointed government even if a coalition had to be formed. So, as is a politician’s right, they will fight to retain power if they can and if they believe they are the best people to lead the country.

Where Does This Leave Environmental Policy?

If I asked a sample of the general public what their priorities were when choosing a political party, I’d likely get issues such as crime, the NHS, the economy, education, the welfare state and immigration. The environment would be well down the list for many. You only have to look at the number of votes won by the Green Party in the 2010 general election – just 285,616 or 1% of the total votes cast.

So, if the environment is the priority for so few people, why would the controlling parties want to do anything that would lose them votes in other areas? Would David Cameron really want to risk ploughing even more money into green projects at the expense of more headline and vote grabbing issues? Not a chance.

So if national parties cannot commit to a widespread ‘greening’ of countries and economies, can regional powers such as the European Parliament do anything more? Well, it’s not always easy to say – they do have powers over a large number of member states and they often say the right things; the green group of MEPs is even one of the largest in the EP but it seems they struggle to get out of first gear when achieving Europe-wide change with slow progress on many issues, not just environmental ones.

As far as winning voters over goes, it’s not quite so much of an issue but you will still get country members defending their own interests to a large degree. They do of course have a significant part to play in bringing about change especially when it comes to the selling, recycling and disposing of physical goods where one law change can have a huge impact across 500 million head of population.

What Can Be Done?

The simple answer is the more MPs in the UK and MEPs in Europe that the Green Party have voted in, the more influence they can have over proceedings. So you, the person reading this, has an opportunity to put your voice behind the green cause by voting Green at local, national and European elections.

I doubt we’ll see a Green government in my lifetime unless the shit really does hit the fan climate-wise, and even then it may be too late but a few more Green MPs in the House of Commons can be no bad thing. The Lib Dems look weak and the London Mayoral Elections showed this with Jenny Jones taking third place for the Greens and, with a following wind, an even more impressive result could be on the cards come the next general election.

What About Businesses?

In the coming weeks and months I’ll probably write in more depth about the role of business in transforming our economy to a more sustainable one but my thoughts are, in essence, that a business is a profit-making enterprise and they will only change their ways if a) the consumer demands it or b) the government tells them to.

As I’ll discuss at a later date, it’s not always as simple as a government telling a business what to do; they have the economy to look after and unions and lobby groups to compromise with so a balance is required.

Anyway – I’ll keep this post short. I could probably rant on about this for a lot longer but I’d be more interested in hearing your own opinions. Your comments really add to the value of this blog because my views are just one way of looking at things; I’m always keen to hear other opinions. So why not leave a comment below – you don’t have to leave your full name if you don’t want to, just a first name will do.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


3 Responses to “Rio+20: Politicians Between A Rock And A Hard Place”

  1. Temesgen.A
    June 29, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    Hi Steve,
    I appreciate your idea!
    Thank you

    Temesgen.A

  2. Sapphire Mitchell
    July 6, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    Such an interesting read! I studied the lead up to Rio+20 as part of my university course, but unfortunately it finished before the summit actually happened!

    Its really interesting to hear another opinion on the story, especially that is UK-related.

    The balance between politics and science progressing is a fine one, and I think it will be a long time yet before an agreement can be met as to what exactly should be done.

  3. suhail
    July 29, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    “Would David Cameron really want to risk ploughing even more money into green projects at the expense of more headline and vote grabbing issues? Not a chance.”

    You just took the words out of my mouth! A great article I mist say and very well written.
    Also, I like the way you have written related headlines like what can be done? helps you follow better

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