People who believe that climate change will be catastrophic for the world have adopted the issue as a "substitute religion", according to John Howard, Australia's former Prime Minister.
His comments came before he was due to deliver the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) lecture in London yesterday evening.
Speaking to reporters in London before his address, he criticised the "alarmist conclusions" reached on global warming and said: “I've always been agnostic about it (climate change). I don't completely dismiss the more dire warnings but I instinctively feel that some of the claims are exaggerated."
In his speech, entitled 'One Religion is Enough', the former leader claimed Tony Abbott, the current Australian Prime Minister emerged victorious in elections because "a little under four years ago he challenged what seemed to be a political consensus on global warming", and described Mr Abbott's stance as "courageous".
He described those who advocated climate change and the dangerous consequences were “zealots” for whom “the cause has become a substitute religion”.
He said policy makers were faced with attempts to "intimidate them" with the manta of "follow science". "But parliaments", he argued, "are the experts at policymaking and neither expressly or impliedly should they ever surrender that role to others”.
The GWPF was established by Nigel Lawson, a former Conservative minister in the Thatcher Government and one of the leading climate change sceptics.
Mr Howard continued: “The high tide of public support for over-zealous action on global warming has passed. My suspicion is that most people in countries like ours have settled into a state of sustained agnosticism on the issue. Of course the climate is changing. It always has.
"There are mixed views not only about how sustained that warming is, seemingly it has not warmed for the last 15 years, and also the relative contributions of mankind and natural causes.”
Despite leading the conference on climate change, Mr Howard said he had only ever read one book about the issue: Mr Lawson's An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming.