The Rio+20 conference on sustainable development has come and gone with barely a flicker of interest in most of the UK. Other than the seriously environmentally attentive, few people will have noticed anything going on. The Prime Minister certainly doesn’t look to have suffered for his decision to stay away to focus on the Eurozone crisis.
But though it was predictable, it wasn’t inevitable that Rio would be so ignored in the UK.
It’s of course the case that the environment is a lower immediate priority for most people than the economy is. The latest Mori issues index shows just 3% identifying green problems as among the main issues facing Britain – compared with 58% choosing the economy (worth remembering that that 42% didn’t choose that either).
So by choosing not to go to Rio, Cameron was probably playing it safe. Most people were never going to notice or particularly mind.
It’s a further step in the logic that had George Osborne say last year “we are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers”. Barely more than half government MPs now think that the Coalition is living up to Cameron’s pledge that it would be the “the greenest government ever”:
But despite all that, public opinion was actually quite receptive to the UK playing a major part in the negotiations at Rio.