Boris Johnson sparked fury earlier this week when he refused to apologise for comments making light of Margaret Thatcher’s closure of coal mines and crediting the former prime minister with giving the UK “a big early start” in moving away from fossil fuels.
The off-the-cuff remarks were described as “deeply offensive” to mining communities but what did Mr Johnson’s predecessor have to say about climate change?
Margaret Thatcher may not be widely known for her brief pro-environmental period in the late 1980s but the former prime minister did draw international attention to the “insidious danger” posed by climate change.
In the late 1980s she used her platform as a world leader to draw attention acid rain, pollution and dramatic changes in weather patterns around the world.
During a speech to The Royal Society in September 1988, Mrs Thatcher said: “For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world’s systems and atmosphere stable.
“But it is possible that with all these enormous changes (population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels) concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.”
She said she believed money spent on “cleansing” polluted areas such as the Mersey Basin to “be money well and necessarily spent” and that “protecting” the balance of nature to be “of the great challenges of the late twentieth century.”
A declassified version of the speech, released in 2018, also show in drafts the former prime minister planned to tell the society how “increasingly concerned about the environment of our planet” she was.
The following November she addressed the UN general assembly in New York highlighting the “insidious danger” climate change posed by “the prospect of irretrievable damage to the atmosphere, to the oceans, to earth itself.”
Mrs Thatcher told the assembly: “It is mankind and his activities which are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways.”
She also put forward the idea of “a vast international, co-operative effort” to address the threat and told the group the UK would be “establishing a new centre for the prediction of climate change.”
“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,” she said.
However, in later years Mrs Thatcher changed her stance on environmental issues withdrawing her previous views.
In her 2003 book, Statecraft, she wrote: “The new dogma about climate change has swept through the left-of-centre governing classes.”
Mrs Thatcher’s own mixed record on the climate has been followed by her party in recent years.
The Conservative party has been criticised for weakening environmental protections and lacking urgency in plans to meet emission targets.
There has also been growing concern that the party has failed to implement many of the promises Johnson set out in his 2020 10-point climate plan.
Most recently the government sparked alarm when it emerged ministers look set to approve the development of a new North Sea oil field.