The Green conservative

While many are inclined to dismiss the CHOGM as a talking shop, there are strong indications that a strong resolve exists to ensure that this will not be the case this time round.

It came as both an interesting and a pleasant surprise recently to meet up with Lord Jonathan Marland and British MP Zac Goldsmith a few hours after they attended the launch of the Commonwealth Business Forum that will serve as a platform for the 53 nations of the Commonwealth to showcase investment opportunities to the global business community when CHOGM meets in Malta in late November.

While many are inclined to dismiss the CHOGM as a talking shop, there are strong indications that a strong resolve exists to ensure that this will not be the case this time round.

Nevertheless what struck me most was that sustainability lay at the core of the ideas that both Lord Marland and Goldsmith have in mind to ensure the success of a forum, whereas in their very own words ‘disparate economies and levels of corporate governance’ are involved and at play.

Even though Marland’s focus remains trade-oriented, as evidenced by his special envoy role for trade on behalf of the British Premier, one could detect a strong emphasis on sustainability in his address. In fact he had also served as Minister for Climate and Energy for his government. 

On the other hand Zac Goldsmith has very strong environmental credentials. In spite of his young age he edited The Ecologist for a number of years, and some 10 years ago received Mikhail Gorbachev’s Global Green Award For International Environmental Leadership, apart from having spearheaded a working group on Quality of Life enhancement within his own party. 

But the best testament and proof of his green credentials lies in The Constant Economy, an excellent book that he wrote some six years ago which had managed to win all round acclaim, including that of Caroline Lucas, who has been the first ever Green Party MP since 2010.

From a perusal of his book she reached a conclusion that we should all reach whenever we have positive proposals for our consideration: That the solutions to the environmental crisis do exist, and that all that is required is the political will to implement them.

His uncle actually founded The Ecologist magazine, even though he bombed heavily at the polls when he tried to run for office.

Zac’s main realisation was that in many countries green politics and policies have moved from the margins and the fringes of political debate to what should be the mainstream of government.

As I have no hesitation in claiming through my various articles, there always remains ‘an almighty gulf between what is said and what is done.’

While one can argue whether the present administration in the UK is the greenest government ever, as had been promised in the electoral run up, Goldsmith was somewhat critical of the Blair years too when he argued that in spite of Tony Blair’s description of climate change as the greatest long term threat to our planet, in his candid opinion Blair had presided over a country that became neither less polluting, nor more prepared for environmental change.

Our ultimate objective and dawning realisation should go beyond the climate dichotomy in the sense that the trouble is that the global community does little to address the fact that we are rapidly shifting from an era of abundance towards one of scarcity ¬– a situation caused by a combination of massive population growth, an insatiable human appetite for consumption and an ever shrinking resource base. 

I do not believe in doom laden scenarios and predictions but on the other hand the way certain countries are inclined to put environmental issues on the slow burner, might risk turning such a nightmarish vision into an almost mathematical certainty.

It is within this spirit that this week I addressed an interesting European stakeholders’ Brussels forum of the waste packaging industry on sustainability. 

We simply cannot continue to consume the world’s resources at the rate we are, without expecting them to run out at some point.

Such a dawning realisation will have sunk in only when such a very basic truth starts having direct bearing on our collective policy decisions.

In our meeting Goldsmith and I were in complete sync with one another, in the sense that the underlying assumption is a straight choice between economy and ecology – and ultimately the economy always wins. Which is indeed a false choice. 

In my long meeting with Zac at my office I could tell that although demure in his approach he can be a bold, environment first politician who speaks with conviction about his areas of specialisation.

The running commentary of his narrative both at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry launch as well as during our meeting is that it would be a gross mistake to think that sustainability begins and ends with climate change.

His is a more holistic and comprehensive approach and perspective that shows a deep understanding and strong feel for the subject so evidently close to his heart.

The main theme of his book is that through sustainability one can map out a clear, realistic plan of action as to how to create what should ultimately prove to be a stable society.

I think that a modal shift will only come about when critics of the environmental agenda who claim the cost of a green economy would be hundreds of billions, if not trillions of pounds or euros, will realise that they tend to confuse cost with investment.

If a proper cost is attached to pollution and waste, businesses will minimise both.

When we talk of safeguarding our resources we must first of all convince people that this does not mean that we must live lives that are three times poorer. 

This is why we need to think outside the box.

We can only do so if we have the resolve to identify successful schemes and come up with bright ideas.

The main thrust of my intervention in Brussels was that one can enhance competitiveness, boost job creation and also address the environmental deficit by thinking green, since after all this is not a mere fad, trend or orientation, but basically nothing more than a common sense approach. 

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