NewsApril 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher's Strong Stance on Climate Change

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By Douglas Fischer, The Daily Climate

Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” of British politics who died Monday at the age of 87, is being lionized as the woman who tilted British domestic and economic policy to the right.

Less noted is how seriously she viewed the threat of climate change and the robustness, more than 20 years ago, of climate science and the United Nations body tasked with assessing the state of that science.

In a 1990 speech at the second World Climate Conference, in Geneva, Thatcher compared the threat of global warming to the Gulf War, which was then just escalating following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. 

And Thatcher, who spent 11 years as the United Kingdom's prime minister, called the work of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “remarkable” and “very careful.”

'Real Enough'

“The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations,” she told delegates, according to a transcript of the speech archived online at the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. A short video also survives.

“Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world's environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community,” she said. “We shall need statesmanship of a rare order.”

Thatcher goes on to highlight the work of several institutions that have been savaged in recent years by conservative radio, think-tanks and others denying that humans can influence the climate or that such influence can have negative consequences.

She touts the work of the UK's Hadley Center for Climate Prediction, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and the IPCC. All three continue to be plagued by the so-called “Climategate” e-mail controversy of 2009.

Science was Clear

To Thatcher in 1990, at the end of her tenure at 10 Downing Street, the science was already clear.

“Our immediate task is to carry as many countries as possible with us, so that we can negotiate a successful framework convention on climate change in 1992,” she said in that 1990 speech. “To accomplish these tasks, we must not waste time and energy disputing the IPCC's report or debating the right machinery for making progress.”

That 1992 convention, negotiated at the Rio Earth Summit and known as the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, set the stage for a series of annual global meetings on climate change that 20 years later has yet to produce a meaningful accord limiting emissions.

Thatcher said little more about climate change after being ousted in November 1990, shortly after her climate address. The Guardian's environmental reporter, John Vidal, notes on a blog post that over the next 10 years global warming became highly politicized, and that Thatcher, in her 2002 memoir, rejected former Vice President Al Gore and his “doomist” predictions.

The Daily Climate is a nonprofit news service covering climate change, and a Climate Central content partner.