In Mike's view...
5 January 2012
For many people, 2012 has been excitedly anticipated for one thing - the London Olympics. It is not surprising. The Games give a four-year, global opportunity to marvel at superhuman feats of strength, speed and agility.
But, this is not the only significant global gathering in 2012. The other is Rio+20, a follow-up conference to the 'Earth Summit' held in 1992 when, for the first time in history, world leaders recognised that humanity shares one, common home.
The question is, will our politicians be a match for the athletes?
Will they exhibit the strength of leadership to adopt policies that recognise the critical importance of biodiversity and ecosystems to human well-being and economic prosperity? Will they be fast enough and act now? And, will they change the trajectories for greenhouse gas emissions and the loss of biological diversity?
Not for going green?
Sadly, David Cameron appears not to be going for green - the Prime Minister of the 'greenest government ever' still plans to miss the Rio event, despite the dates being shifted to avoid a clash with the Queen's diamond jubilee.
There are some qualifying heats that our domestic politicians will have to pass in the UK, if they are going to have any credibility at Rio+20.
First, the Coalition Government's economic strategy should adopt the findings of the National Ecosystems Assessment, published last year by the same Government, which demonstrates that the environment is an asset, not a cost.
Hopefully, the Olympics will keep Boris Johnson sufficiently occupied on the real tasks in hand
Second, the triennial review of England's government agencies (including the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the Environment Agency) is likely to take place this autumn, while work is underway to create a single agency for their Welsh equivalents. These institutional arrangements must operate so that our natural environment is governed in a way that recognises environmental limits and produces outcomes for species, habitats and people.
Third, the Government should firmly reject the crazy idea of an new airport in the Thames Estuary. Hopefully, the Olympics will keep Boris Johnson sufficiently occupied on the real tasks in hand, rather than flying kites.
And fourthly, the Government's proposed review of the Habitats Regulations should recognise the benefits that high environmental standards bring, when it is published in March. Just downstream of the Olympic village, major infrastructure developments, consistent with the Birds and Habitats Directives, have taken place in the same Thames Estuary. These projects show that it really is possible for a world class economy to go hand-in-hand with a world class environment.
Politicians' personal bests?
Our politicians have a huge responsibility to achieve their personal bests, ensuring that at Rio+20 they are closer to the winning line of saving the planet than in 1992. Their willingness to rise to this challenge will determine whether they merit support from spectators, or fall foul of line judges calling for their disqualification.
So, 2012 will be undoubtedly be a year of many challenges. But, there are also grounds for optimism. You have been Stepping Up for Nature in your thousands, supporting RSPB campaigns, taking part in surveys, creating homes for wildlife where you live. By working together, we can overcome many of the challenges ahead.
In Olympic year, the RSPB and all our supporters could do worse than to adopt the motto of the Games, 'Citius, Altius, Fortius' - 'Faster, Higher, Stronger'.
Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB