By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Czech President Vaclav Klaus has criticised Chancellor Angela Merkel for her efforts to fight climate change, saying politicians, journalists and scientists are exploiting an unproven issue for their own advantage.
In an interview to be published in WirtschaftsWoche business magazine in Germany on Monday, Klaus said many world leaders had privately congratulated him for doubting whether climate change was man-made in a Sept. 24 speech to a U.N. conference.
"The unfair and irrational debate about global warming really annoys me," said Klaus, a leading climate change sceptic.
"The issue is increasingly turning into the fundamental ideological conflict of our times. The climate protection movement represents a new ideology."
Ahead of a U.N. climate panel meeting starting on Monday, Klaus compared it to the East-West conflict of the Cold War.
He said he was surprised Merkel, a physicist who grew up in communist East Germany, would fall for such an idea without making a "critical examination of a controversial hypothesis". Merkel has taken a leading role in fighting climate change.
"She's lived in a socialist society and she knows the dangers of ideologies that are aimed against freedom," said Klaus, whose Sept. 24 climate conference speech may also have hurt the Czech Republic's bid for a U.N. Security Council seat.
"Utopia is an excellent escape for politicians because they can busy themselves with far-away goals and don't have to worry about immediate problems," added Klaus. "Climate change is an excellent issue for that escape."
Klaus said many world leaders privately congratulated him for his sceptical remarks but he did not want to name them.
"I'm not alone," he said. "I didn't get applause for my speech at the New York climate conference. But afterwards many government leaders came to me and congratulated me. They said 'that was important, someone has to say it'. Evidently you need to be brave to speak up against climate policies."
U.N. CLIMATE PANEL MEETING
Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, produced by burning fossil fuels, trap heat in the atmosphere. Scientists say that if emissions are not curbed, sea levels will rise while drought and floods will become more frequent.
A U.N. climate panel will meet in Valencia, Spain, on Nov. 12-17 to issue a report summing up more than 3,000 pages of findings this year that blamed humans for climate change.
Klaus told the German weekly magazine he did not doubt that global warming was happening and that humans were playing a role. But he said the decisive question was how big that role is. Klaus said it is only marginal.
"You can analyse the climate debate as a sociological trend. First, politicians have put climate protection on the agenda for self-interest and journalists then jumped aboard as freeloaders kicking up a storm with a headline-making issue," he said.
"And then come the climate researchers who want to maximise their profit by devoting themselves to an issue where the most research funds are being allocated," he said.
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(Editing by Matthew Tostevin )