Did they really say that?

Sensemaking / Did they really say that?

A look back at some of the political promises reported by Green Futures over the past 18 years.

By Anna Simpson / 21 Aug 2014

In the very first issue of Green Futures, Joan Ruddock, the UK’s then Shadow Minister for Environmental Protection, put her faith in “a groundswell of public opinion and the assiduous attention of pressure groups”.

Since, we’ve seen industry respond to high-profile campaigns, from Franny Armstrong’s 10:10 movement to Greenpeace’s Detox Campaign. But we’ve also seen leadership from within business.

In 1997, Unilever’s Iain Anderson introduced the company’s sustainability goals to our readers; 15 years later, its CEO, Paul Polman, described to Martin Wright the experience of setting the renowned target to double the size of the business by 2020 – while reducing environmental impact by half. “If you don’t start with something uncomfortable, I don’t think you’re moving the needle far enough…”

The opportunity that sustainability presents to society has seen more activists turn to social enterprise to deliver the answers to their campaigns. Marjora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, is one. She told a Green Futures correspondent how she’d burst into tears when she realised she’d have to challenge Al Gore for missing this point. She had asked him how environmental justice advocates were going to be included in his new marketing strategy, and his response had been a grant programme. “I don’t think he understood that I wasn’t asking for funding. I was making him an offer.”

However, politicians remain slow to take up the offer of a sustainable future. One year on from his election as Tory leader, David Cameron told Martin Wright, “If we have that climate change bill, with binding annual targets, then the Government will be judged every year on how we’re doing. We really will be held to account in terms of hitting those targets.” The bill materialised, but the binding annual targets did not…

In 2004, John Kerry put sustainability at the heart of the US security debate, telling Green Futures: “After September 11, I think Americans understand as never before that energy security is American security”. Yet it was another ten years before the US committed to a carbon-intensity target, setting a 2030 goal earlier this year.

Overheard: Tony Blair, 15 November 2006

Let me read [the right hon. Gentleman, David Cameron’s] position, which he gave just the other day in an interview in Green Futures. He said: “I want to give every opportunity for green sources of energy to come through. If they do, well and good, if they don’t, and we have to keep the lights on, then nuclear might come into the picture.” So what is he going to do? He is the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary comes in and says, “I am afraid the renewables haven’t generated as much as we want. I am afraid we won’t be able to keep the lights on.” So what is the right hon. Gentleman going to say—“Rustle me up a nuclear power station”?

12 strides towards sustainability in Green Futures’ lifetime

1997 Kyoto Protocol is established at the third Conference of the Parties

1999 Dow Jones launches its Sustainability Index

2000 The United Nations sets the Millennium Development Goals for 2015

2001 Projects for sustainable food, energy and water in Nigeria, Rwanda, Honduras and Kenya win the first Ashden Awards

2002 104 world leaders and thousands of delegates meet at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg

2004 Wangari Maathai becomes the first environmentalist to be awarded the Nobel Prize

2006 Nicholas Stern examines the costs of ignoring climate change in an influential report

2007 The fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report hits international headlines, finding global warming “unequivocal” and “very likely” due to human activities

2009 10:10 Campaign launched by activist Franny Armstrong, Director of ‘Age of Stupid’

2010 Unilever sets out its Sustainable Living Plan

2012 London claims to host the “most sustainable” Olympic and Paralympic Games “ever”

2013 China sets a carbon-intensity target for 2020. The EU and US follow in 2014 with 2030 goals

 Image Credit: iStock/Bolsunova

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