Margaret Thatcher – Climate Change Pioneer
David Cameron has become closely associated with campaigning about “green” issues. It is something that he has taken very seriously since he was elected leader of the Conservative Party in December 2005. However, he has been criticised by some on the left who argue that this is merely an electoral tactic and that Conservatives have no history of concern for our environment.
They couldn’t be more wrong. The Conservative Party has a long history of environmental activism and senior Conservatives were amongst the first to raise the issue on the international political stage. Margaret Thatcher, as a scientist herself, was very interested in the subject of climate change.
Thatcher, who got her degree in chemistry in 1947 from Oxford and went on to work as a research chemist before becoming a tax lawyer and, eventually, a politician, gave her first documented speech mentioning climate change at the Royal Society in 1988, almost a decade into her 11-year reign as Prime Minister. She told the assembled scientists that three changes in atmospheric chemistry 1. greenhouse gases, 2. the hole in the ozone layer and 3. acid emissions from power plants, warranted not just good science to resolve uncertainties but also government action to diminish pollution and promote sustainable development. She said:
“Even though this kind of action may cost a lot, I believe it to be money well and necessarily spent because the health of the economy and the health of our environment are totally dependent upon each other”.
On 8 November 1989 she addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations on the matter. Read her speech and I suspect that some people will be very surprised. She was clearly speaking from personal understanding and deep concern.
In 1990 she addressed the 2nd World Climate Conference. Her comments included the following:
“…the need for more research should not be an excuse for delaying much needed action now. There is already a clear case for precautionary action at an international level.”
“We should not forget that CFCs are 10,000 times more powerful, molecule for molecule, than carbon dioxide as agents of global warming. But of the other greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is by far the most extensive and contributes about half of the manmade greenhouse warming. All our countries produce it. The latest figures which I have seen show that 26 per cent comes from North America, 22 per cent from the rest of the OECD, 26 per cent from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and 26 per cent from the less developed countries.
These figures underline why a joint international effort to curb greenhouse gases in general and carbon dioxide in particular is so important. There is little point in action to reduce the amounts being put into the atmosphere in one part of the world, if they are promptly increased in another. Within this framework the United Kingdom is prepared, as part of an international effort including other leading countries, to set itself the demanding target of bringing carbon dioxide emissions back to this year’s level by the year 2005. That will mean reversing a rising trend before that date.”
As with so many other issues Margaret Thatcher was ahead of her time. She set the framework for the policies that the present Government is following. It would be nice to hear some of her critics giving her a little credit in this area. And next time that the Lib Dems claim that they are the only party with a long history of campaigning on this issue I shall point out that Margaret Thatcher was already doing it before their party came into existence!
David Cameron is therefore treading faithfully on Margaret Thatcher’s pioneering path.