Margaret Thatcher green visionary

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I wrote last Friday morning about the BBC's Green originals series which showcases 15 people who have made a difference to our understanding of how humans are affecting the balances within natural systems.

On Friday afternoon, the BBC's 10th programme in this series was about Margaret Thatcher.  Some, no doubt, will have been incredulous; others outraged at the misrepresentation this involves; fake news surely.  To those, and everyone else reading this, I'd just say listen to the broadcast and get better informed.

Rightly the BBC presenter drew attention to a number of speeches Thatcher made in the late 1980s, culminating in what the presenter called "the big one".  This was her 30 minute talk at the UN General Assembly in 1989 about climate change and environmental problems more generally.

You can watch here, and read a transcript here.

I particularly noted these passages:


"But the problem of global climate change is one that affects us all and action will only be effective if it is taken at the international level.  It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who should pay.  Whole areas of our planet could be subject to drought and starvation if the pattern of rains and monsoons were to change as a result of the destruction of forests and the accumulation of greenhouse gases.  We have to look forward not backward, and we shall only succeed in dealing with the problems through a vast international, co-operative effort."


"... we need to get the economics right.  That means first we must have continued economic growth in order to generate the wealth required to pay for the protection of the environment.  But it must be growth which does not plunder the planet today and leave our children to deal with the consequences tomorrow."


"The most pressing task which faces us at the international level is to negotiate a framework convention on climate change—a sort of good conduct guide for all nations.  Fortunately we have a model in the action already taken to protect the ozone layer.  The Vienna Convention in 1985 and the Montreal Protocol in 1987 established landmarks in international law.  They aim to prevent rather than just cure a global environmental problem.  I believe we should aim to have a convention on global climate change ready by the time the World Conference on Environment and Development meets in 1992. That will be among the most important conferences the United Nations has ever held. I hope that we shall all accept a responsibility to meet this timetable.

The 1992 Conference is indeed already being discussed among many countries in many places.  ...  But a framework is not enough.  It will need to be filled out with specific undertakings, or protocols in diplomatic language, on the different aspects of climate change.  These protocols must be binding and there must be effective regimes to supervise and monitor their application.  Otherwise those nations which accept and abide by environmental agreements, thus adding to their industrial costs, will lose out competitively to those who do not.

The negotiation of some of these protocols will undoubtedly be difficult. And no issue will be more contentious than the need to control emissions of carbon dioxide, the major contributor—apart from water vapour—to the greenhouse effect.  We can't just do nothing. But the measures we take must be based on sound scientific analysis of the effect of the different gases and the ways in which these can be reduced. In the past there has been a tendency to solve one problem at the expense of making others worse.

The United Kingdom therefore proposes that we prolong the role of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change after it submits its report next year, so that it can provide an authoritative scientific base for the negotiation of this and other protocols.  We can then agree to targets to reduce the greenhouse gases, and how much individual countries should contribute to their achievement.  We think it important that this should be done in a way which enables all our economies to continue to grow and develop.  The challenge for our negotiators on matters like this is as great as for any disarmament treaty.  The Inter-governmental Panel's work must remain on target, and we must not allow ourselves to be diverted into fruitless and divisive argument.  Time is too short for that.

Before leaving the area where international action is needed, I would make a plea for a further global convention, one to conserve the infinite variety of species—of plant and animal life—which inhabit our planet.  The tropical forests contain a half of the species in the world, so their disappearance is doubly damaging, and it is astonishing but true that our civilisation, whose imagination has reached the boundaries of the universe, does not know, to within a factor of ten, how many species the earth supports.  What we do know is that we are losing them at a reckless rate—between three and fifty each day on some estimates—species which could perhaps be helping us to advance the frontiers of medical science. We should act together to conserve this precious heritage."


This was in 1989: thirty years ago.  It was before the first report of the IPCC.  It was 26 years before the Paris Agreement which is toothless compared to what was being advocated here.  30 years ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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