January 26, 2022


The diplomat and environmentalist who persuaded Margaret Thatcher to take global warming seriously has died at the age of 91.

Tickell’s crowning achievement was the so-called “greening” of Margaret Thatcher, whom he persuaded to become the first world leader to mention global warming and to take it seriously, which she did, famously, in a keynote speech to the Royal Society in September 1988.  He famously told Mrs Thatcher about climate change while washing dishes; passing a plate she replied: “All right, let’s have a look into this.”


According to the Telegraph, as the great-great-grandson of Thomas Huxley, the Victorian scientist known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his staunch defence of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Tickell’s own instincts were pointed at a different scientific cause – that of the need for concerted international action to tackle climate change.  He had first heard of climate change during the Stockholm conference of scientists in 1972, and became convinced that it was a matter of pressing global concern while on a sabbatical at Harvard in the mid-1970s, when he researched the issues.


The Telegraph article went on to say that in 1977  Tickell published a short book, Climatic Change and World Affairs, in which he argued that mandatory international pollution control would eventually be necessary to tackle the problem, and called for a climate change treaty.  Tickell had first briefed Mrs Thatcher on the issue in 1984 when he found himself washing dishes alongside the Prime Minister after a meeting at the House of Commons. “I took her through the whole story of climate change, how it worked, the importance of greenhouse gases, and what the temperature of the planet would be without them.  “She very much felt herself to be a scientist among non-scientists,” Tickell recalled, “and of course she certainly felt that, as a woman in a man-made world, she had to make her point.”

In her speech to the Royal Society, Mrs Thatcher highlighted changes in atmospheric chemistry brought about by greenhouse gases, which “led some to fear that we are creating a global heat-trap which could lead to climatic instability”. Protecting the balance of nature, she declared, was “one of the great challenges of the late 20th century”.  That speech added to the international momentum that brought about agreement at the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio to a binding treaty requiring nations to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other “greenhouse” gases thought to be responsible for global warming.

In fact, said the Telegraph obituary, despite Rio and subsequent climate treaties, greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise, and Mrs Thatcher later seemed to disavow her earlier fervour. “She was global cooling quite rapidly,” recalled a member of her private office quoted by Charles Moore in his biography of the former prime minister. “The subject was helping a party that was hurting her party.”

According to the obituary, in later life Tickell apparently took a rather despairing view of global prospects. He was glad, he told an interviewer in 1999, to be in “life’s departure lounge and not the arrival lounge. The next generation is in for an awfully bumpy ride.”

Crispin Charles Cervantes Tickell’s early life and career was described as follows by the Telegraph:

Crispin Charles Cervantes Tickell was born on August 25 1930 to Jerrard Tickell, an Irish-born writer now remembered for his novels and books about the Second World War. His mother Renée, née Haynes, was a novelist and a psychical researcher, the daughter of the social moralist E  S   P Haynes and his wife Oriana, a granddaughter of Thomas Huxley. The name Cervantes reflected an unsubstantiated belief that the Tickells were distant descendants of the great Spanish poet.

Crispin was a King’s Scholar at Westminster School, from where he went up to Christ Church, Oxford, graduating in 1952 with a First in Modern History.

After National Service in the Coldstream Guards as a 2nd Lieutenant, he joined the Diplomatic Service in 1954 and began his career with a short stint in the Foreign Office in Whitehall with responsibility for the British Antarctic Territory. In 1956, as a junior Foreign Office official, he dispatched a Royal Navy destroyer to the South Atlantic to deter a threatened Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands.  There followed postings to The Hague, Mexico City, the Foreign Office Planning Department, and Paris.

From March 1970 to January 22 1972, the day Edward Heath signed the Treaty of Accession to the European Community, Tickell served as Private Secretary to three Chancellors of the Duchy of Lancaster – Labour’s George Thomson, followed by the Conservatives Anthony Barber and Geoffrey Rippon – responsible for negotiating Britain’s entry.  In an interview for the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme at Churchill College, Cambridge, in 1999, he reflected that although Britain should probably not have signed up to so much of the Common Agricultural Policy, and had made “some mistakes” over the Common Fisheries Policy, “by and large it wasn’t too awful a deal.”  The government’s philosophy at the time, he recalled, was “the belief that once we were in the system we could bend it to suit our interests”.

There followed three years in charge of the Foreign Office’s Western Organisations Department, dealing with Nato, the Western European Union, and the Conference on Security Cooperation in Europe, an appointment that culminated in the signing of the Helsinki Accords in August 1975.

After his sabbatical at Harvard, Tickell accepted an invitation to become chef de cabinet on secondment from the Foreign Office to Roy Jenkins as President of the European Commission.

He flew out to Brussels with Jenkins on January 1 1977 and remained with him throughout his tenure. Jenkins valued his “cool, muscular intelligence” and they become good friends, continuing to see each other regularly long after they had both retired from the fray.


Source: Telegraph Obituaries27 January 2022 • 3:33pm