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Global Environment

The Iron Lady who ruled with a ‘green fist’

I have decided to join the Thatcher bandwagon with a short post about her contribution to the policies concerning environmental issues. A recent article by BBC Environmental Analyst Roger Harrabin described Baroness Margaret Thatcher as doing “more than any major UK politician at the time to legitimise the environment as a concern at the highest level”.

Photo credit: Chris Collins

Ms Thatcher’s first mention of green issues occurred in the late 1980s, with speeches that rattled the Royal Society in the UK, then the UN with her mention of a global threat outside the realm of politics and warfare. She was a pioneering politician to formally address issues of atmospheric pollution, marine pollution and threats to the Earth as a result of climate change. These remarks set the scene for a shift in how institutions tackled these issues, at a time when scientific studies exposed the harsh realities of acid rain, deforestation and waste production.

“What we are now doing to the world, by degrading the land surfaces, by polluting the waters and by adding greenhouse gases to the air at an unprecedented rate – all this is new in the experience of the earth. It is mankind and his activities that are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways.”


True to Thatcher’s divisive reputation, not everyone agrees that her environmental interests were genuine. Environmentalist George Monbiot describes her November 1989 UN speech as being simply regurgitated bluff, since it was the UK who two days after blocked a proposal to reduce CO2 emission by 20% by 2005.

Despite this, it is undeniable that her speech was the flame needed to ignite a green revolution in the world, at a time when being eco-conscious was synonymous to being a hippie. Having a world leader addressing such issues on a global scene made other influential people take notice. She was also instrumental in the setting up of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 with Dr John Houghton, then head of the UK Met Office.

However, in 2003 she appeared to recant some of her earlier declarations in her book Statecraft. She indicated how the impending global warming scare which has become common knowledge was flawed, criticising the ‘doomsters’ and their propaganda. She also questioned the scientific research on the argument, and publicly mocked Al Gore and his schemes aimed at reducing CO2 emissions.

She also has a minor ‘tiff’ with Eddie Fenech Adami, the then Maltese Prime Minister, when “she disagreed with concerns he raised about climate change during a Commonwealth meeting” – even though there is no clarification about what the argument was about.

Whilst I do not feel competent to comment on the effect Thatcherism had on the UK and Europe at the time, her influence on environmental awareness is undeniable and should be commended.

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