Margaret Thatcher’s Call for Action on Climate Change, Transition to Clean Energy

Courtesy of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, note that we’re highlighting this speech – by someone we’re not fans of in many ways – to demonstrate that understanding the urgent need for a transition to clean energy should not be, and certainly has not always been, politically polarized.

But the threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. 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.

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. No-one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order…

We have become more and more aware of the growing imbalance between our species and other species, between population and resources, between humankind and the natural order of which we are part.

In recent years, we have been playing with the conditions of the life we know on the surface of our planet. We have cared too little for our seas, our forests and our land. We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin. We have come to realise that man’s activities and numbers threaten to upset the biological balance which we have taken for granted and on which human life depends.

We must remember our duty to Nature before it is too late…

Lots more on the “flip,” including her praise of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and specifically its report on climate change, as a “remarkable achievement.”

I want to pay tribute to the important work which the United Nations has done to advance our understanding of climate change, and in particular the risks of global warming. Dr. Tolba and Professor Obasi deserve our particular thanks for their far-sighted initiative in establishing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC report is a remarkable achievement

The real dangers arise because climate change is combined with other problems of our age: for instance the population explosion; — the deterioration of soil fertility; — increasing pollution of the sea; — intensive use of fossil fuel; — and destruction of the world’s forests, particularly those in the tropics…

…But 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. The IPCC tells us that we can’t repair the effects of past behaviour on our atmosphere as quickly and as easily as we might cleanse a stream or river. It will take, for example, until the second half of the next century, until the old age of my [ Michael Thatcher] grandson, to repair the damage to the ozone layer above the Antarctic. And some of the gases we are adding to the global heat trap will endure in the Earth’s atmosphere for just as long.

The IPCC tells us that, on present trends, the earth will warm up faster than at any time since the last ice age. Weather patterns could change so that what is now wet would become dry, and what is now dry would become wet. Rising seas could threaten the livelihood of that substantial part of the world’s population which lives on or near coasts. The character and behaviour of plants would change, some for the better, some for worse. Some species of animals and plants would migrate to different zones or disappear for ever. Forests would die or move. And deserts would advance as green fields retreated.

Many of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event. It is sensible to improve energy efficiency and use energy prudently…to develop alternative and sustainable sources of supply; it’s sensible to replant the forests which we consume; it’s sensible to re-examine industrial processes; it’s sensible to tackle the problem of waste. I understand that the latest vogue is to call them ‘no regrets’ policies. Certainly we should have none in putting them into effect.

And our uncertainties about climate change are not all in one direction. The IPCC report is very honest about the margins of error. Climate change may be less than predicted. But equally it may occur more quickly than the present computer models suggest. Should this happen it would be doubly disastrous were we to shirk the challenge now. I see the adoption of these policies as a sort of premium on insurance against fire, flood or other disaster. It may be cheaper or more cost-effective to take action now than to wait and find we have to pay much more later…

…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…

…Targets on their own are not enough. They have to be achievable. Promises are easy. Action is more difficult. For our part, we have worked out a strategy which sets us on the road to achieving the target. We propose ambitious programmes both to promote energy efficiency and to encourage the use of cleaner fuels.

We now require, by law, that a substantial proportion of our electricity comes from sources which emit little or no carbon dioxide, and that includes a continuing important contribution from nuclear energy.