Back in November 2005, your perspective on the Kyoto Protocol was the shorthand way to judge your climate change bona fides. Even express constructive criticism of the existing treaty arrangements under Kyoto and you ran the risk of being pilloried by environmental advocates as some sinister force of darkness.
In that month, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair convened the first meeting of the G8+5 group of nations at Lancaster House, a grand Victorian building behind London’s Mall. The delegates came together to discuss how to achieve a more effective international response to the climate problem. Delegates from all G8 nations and the rapidly developing economies of Mexico, South Africa, China, India and Brazil attended. It was an early move in crafting the case for a more effective global climate treaty with the right group of decision makers.
In his presentation, Blair stated the case for “a post Kyoto agreement”. Given that the provisions of the protocol only lasted until 2012, this was a perfectly clear and rational way to describe what was required. Fifteen minutes later, the heads of two of the world’s best-known environmental organisations were on the phone talking the language of “betrayal”. The front page of two broadsheet newspapers spoke of the Prime Minister having “rejected” Kyoto.
The story simply illustrates the enduring immaturity of environmental politics. Just at the point when the captain has assembled a team with the skill and ability to win, the fans berate him for his pre-match team talk, undermining his authority and making some of the star recruits wonder why they bothered to turn up.
Genuine, lasting progress on these issues can only be achieved when governments and political leaders see them as central. The Rio+20 conference later this week comes as a footnote to the G20 in Mexico. Some heads of state will be stopping off on their way home. Many won’t. Economy first, sustainability second; it’s every G20 leader’s itinerary.