London: Tony Abbott says voters should beware the science of climate change but argues that higher temperatures "might even be beneficial" because "far more people die in cold snaps".
The former prime minister made the comments in a speech in London on Tuesday to the Global Warming Policy foundation which was established in the lead up to the 2009 Copenhagen conference by the climate sceptic and member of the House of Lords Nigel Lawson.
Sir Michael Hintze, an Australian-born, London-based hedge fund owner who helped bankroll the Brexit campaign, was among the guests. Mr Abbott singled out former Liberal prime minister John Howard and the Cardinal George Pell, who is facing sexual abuse allegations in Victoria, as previous Australian speakers.
According to excerpts provided to News Corp ahead of the event, Mr Abbott said that extreme weather events in Australia are no more damaging than they were in the 1800s.
"In Australia the floods are not bigger, the bushfires are not worse, the droughts are not deeper or longer, and the cyclones are not more severe than they were in the 1800s. Sometimes, they do more damage but that's because there's more to destroy, not because their intensity has increased," he said.
He added that 100 years of photographs of Manly beach in his electorate on Sydney's northern beaches do not suggest that sea levels have risen. But he said that even if the climate was warming, it could be better overall because "far more people die in cold snaps".
"In most countries, far more people die in cold snaps than in heatwaves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it's accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change, might even be beneficial," he said.
The United States' space agency, NASA, says: "Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities."
NASA adds "most of the leading scientific organisations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position".
But Mr Abbott said overnight: "Beware the pronouncement, 'the science is settled'."
Mr Abbott's intervention comes at a critical time for his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, who is deciding on the government's response to the Finkel review into Australia's future energy policy.
On Monday, environment minister Josh Frydenberg signalled that the Coalition could walk way from a clean energy target because the cost of renewables is falling. Mr Abbott said this was "belated".
Mr Abbott's vigorous agitation on the clean energy target is in stark contrast with his actions as prime minister when in 2015 he committed Australia to the global Paris Accord and reduced the renewable energy target to 33,000 GwH per year.
Since then, he has suggested he was not allowed "the luxury of a personal view" while prime minister and that he was prevented from cutting further. However, former environment minister Greg Hunt has said Mr Abbott was in no way stopped by his colleagues and said the 33,000 GwH was the limit for the Senate.
Mr Turnbull said on Tuesday that he was committed to ensuring reliable, affordable energy, as well as meeting Australia's obligations under the Paris agreement, to cut emissions by between 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.
"We've had a lot of failures in energy policy in years gone by. And as you've seen this with energy policy being driven by politics and ideology, in some cases, as much idiocy as ideology, to be frank," he said.
"My government is guided by engineering and economics."
In 2009, Mr Abbott toppled Mr Turnbull for the Liberal leadership over climate policy.