Thatcher remembered for paving way on climate politics

Sustainability professionals have largely paid tribute to the environmental legacy left by Baroness Margaret Thatcher in British politics following her death today at the age of 87.

“Britain’s only green Prime Minister” was how eco-consultant Gareth Kane described her, saying she was the first political leader in the UK to warn openly of the dangers of climate change while also calling for a global treaty to address the issue.

Writing in his blog on his company Terra Infirma’s website, Kane referred to Thatcher’s UN speech back in 1989 where she spoke of the “vast increase in the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere” and predicted that the future consequences of this were “likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto.”

Kane also pointed to the fact that Thatcher set up the Met Office Hadley Centre for climate prediction and research in 1990, one of the UK’s leading specialists in this field. Much of its work now informs policy going forward.

“The Green movement hates to admit it, but Mrs Thatcher set the ball rolling,” he argued.

Kane’s views were echoed by the BBC’s environment & energy analyst Harrabin who tweeted that Thatcher had “legitimised the environment as a matter of mainstream political concern”.

In 1988, a year before her famous UN speech, Thatcher was quoted as saying that the health of the economy and the health of the environment were “totally dependent upon each other” – a remark which some commentators believe the current government would do well to heed.

On twitter, Kyocera’s head of CSR Tracey Rawling Church questioned: “If Baroness Thatcher was genuinely held in the esteem Tory tweeters claim, why have they abandoned her proactive stance on climate change?”

Meanwhile in response to Thatcher’s efforts to negotiate a global convention on climate change, Greenpeace International’s political director Daniel Mittler tweeted: “Makes you think, ‘greenest ever’ Cameron?”.

However some observers questioned Thatcher’s green credentials, believing she manipulated them to orchestrate the downfall of Britain’s coal mining industry.

In later years, she appeared to backtrack on her earlier views and took a more sceptical approach by questioning some of the science behind global warming.

She also wrote in her last book Statecraft published in 2003, under a passage entitled ‘Hot Air and Global Warming’, that schemes to reduce CO2 emissions were futile, being both “costly and economically damaging”.

Maxine Perella

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