Prince uses speech at St James's Palace to single out 'confirmed sceptics' and environmentally unfriendly businesses

The Prince of Wales has criticised "corporate lobbyists" and climate change sceptics for turning the earth into a "dying patient", in his most outspoken attack yet on the world's failure to tackle global warming.

He attacked businesses who failed to care for the environment, and compared the current generation to a doctor taking care of a critically ill patient.

"If you think about the impact of climate change, [it should be how] a doctor would deal with the problem," he told an audience of government ministers, from the UK and abroad, as well as businesspeople and scientists. "A scientific hypothesis is tested to absolute destruction, but medicine can't wait. If a doctor sees a child with a fever, he can't wait for [endless] tests. He has to act on what is there."

He added: "The risk of delay is so enormous that we can't wait until we are absolutely sure the patient is dying."

Hosting a two-day conference for forest scientists at St James's Palace in London, the heir to the throne – who is taking over from the Queen at this year's meeting of the Commonwealth in Sri Lanka – savagely satirised those who stand in the way of swift action on the climate.

He characterised them as "the confirmed sceptics" and "the international association of corporate lobbyists". Faced with these forces of opposition, "science finds itself up the proverbial double blind gum tree", he said.

His audience included Owen Paterson, the Tory secretary of state for the environment, said by some who know him to be sceptical of the scientific consensus on climate change, and who pointedly left climate change out of his speech and focused on other environmental issues such as biodiversity.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem secretary of state for energy and climate, pointedly used his speech to the conference to draw a deep dividing line between his own party and the increasingly vocal section of the Tory right wing that is attacking policies that require tougher emissions targets and more money for the low-carbon economy.

Other speakers included Lord Stern, author of the 2006 review of the economics of climate change, which found that cutting emissions sooner would be cheaper than waiting for global warming to accelerate. He explicitly echoed the Prince's attack on corporate interests, but said the "constellation of policy" around the world, including in the US and China, was in favour of concerted international action.

Ian Cheshire, the chief executive of the retail group Kingfisher, said some businesses were committed to strong action on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and could see the benefits of dealing with the issues.

Prince Charles is no stranger to controversy, having spoken out on issues from organic farming and alternative medicine to architecture. But his words – warmly welcomed by the conference – were his strongest yet on climate change, an issue he has taken a deep interest in. He founded his working group on forests, whose conference he was addressing on Wednesday, in 2007, and also lends his name to a group of businesses, the Corporate Leaders' Group, which supports corporate action on cutting greenhouse emissions.

He praised countries such as Brazil, which has taken a lead on reducing deforestation, and Norway, which is offering billions of dollars to developing nations to protect their forests.

The scientists at the Prince's forum endorsed a call for much greater investment on "big science, which supports the integration and expansion of global tropical forest monitoring networks" and "enhanced research" into the resilience of forests. About a billion people all over the world depend on forests for their livelihoods, and although the rate of deforestation has slowed in countries such as Brazil, it is accelerating over swathes of south-east Asia and Africa.

© Guardian News and Media 2013