In 1988, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher became the first world leader to take a stand on fighting climate change. Last month, exactly a quarter-century later, her successor Rishi Sunak tore up a cross-party consensus on the issue that had survived the intervening eight general elections and replaced it with a populist assault on what had been his own government’s environmental policies.
Thatcher, who trained as a chemist before entering politics, took her stand at a packed meeting of the country’s most prestigious science body, the Royal Society, on September 27, 1988. She told the assembly that “we are creating a global heat trap which could lead to climate instability” and promised action to curb global warming and achieve “stable prosperity”.
That speech marked the start of 25 years during which Britain led the world in cutting its carbon dioxide emissions, which are today 47 percent below 1990 levels.
But on September 27, 2023, another Conservative prime minister, former banker Rishi Sunak, sounded what many regarded as a retreat from climate leadership and the pursuit of “stable prosperity.” As part of a new policy to “max out” oil production, his government gave the go-ahead for exploiting Britain’s largest untapped oilfield in the North Sea. [Continue reading…]