The death and funeral ceremonies for Queen Elizabeth are over, but speculation about how King Charles III will evolve from the plainspoken Prince of Wales to a king who must be “above politics” is being parsed around the globe. The environmental community is particularly interested in how King Charles will manage his new duties and how deeply his role as the Constitutional Monarch will limit him.
Charles, 73, has a documented history as an environmental leader. In 1970, at age 21, he spoke at a conference in Cardiff about the dangers of plastic and pollution. Ahead of public sentiment, Charles’ ideas were dismissed and ridiculed. Al Gore presented the Harvard Medical School Global Environmental Citizen Award to Charles in 2007. The following year, Charles called out the concern of climate change to ministers in the European Parliament. He had a strong presence at COP21 in 2015, where his address was one of the opening talks. Charles referenced emphatically the “generations yet unborn” and the “threat facing humanity.” He underscored, “In damaging our climate, we become the architects of our destruction.” He pointedly noted that the planet may survive but that the “human race cannot.”
At Davos 2020, Charles met Greta Thunberg. There he asked, “Do we want to go down in history as the people who did nothing to bring the world back from the brink, in trying to restore the balance, when we could have done? I don’t want to.” Advocating for future generations in Rome at the G-20, Charles stated, “The only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now.”
Charles has the opportunity to be seen as a figurehead leader for environmental awareness. Ascending to the throne late in his life, he has a public record demonstrating his concern for the planet. He established the Sustainable Markets Initiative in 2020, which features the Terra Carta, designed to lead businesses toward sustainability practices, delineated in 100 potential measures.
On a personal level, Charles uses solar panels for home heating, and his Aston Martin car runs on bioethanol derived from wine and cheese by-products. (And yes, he has an electric Jaguar.) He advocates for wool, as it biodegrades naturally in landfills. He has developed three organic gardens at his Gloucestershire estate, Highgrove. One is a wild garden, home to various birds and wildlife. Another creates produce that funds the business, Duchy Organic, whose profits go to charity.
Criticisms reflect the fact that Charles has the financial resources to put his philosophy into deeper practice. However, that doesn’t discount that he has addressed matters relating to soil, oceans, forests, temperature rise, and biodiversity for 50 years. Charles has demonstrated his active search for solutions and is knowledgeable about how land absorbs carbon. He supports “New Urbanism,” which promotes pedestrian-friendly city planning and infrastructure for bicycles and public transportation. He has no fossil fuel investments and has suggested changing eating patterns to reflect two days per week with no meat or fish and one dairy-free day.
So how will this all fit in with the views of the new Prime Minister Liz Truss?
Truss has supported overturning a ban on fracking and appointed an energy minister, Jacob Rees Mogg, whose ideas are hardly in sync with the new king. In England, climate deniers are referenced as “climate skeptics,” perhaps reflecting the British fondness for understatement.
Truss will have weekly private conversations with Charles, allowing him to share his opinions without reserve. Additionally, he will have access to international heads of state and domestic influencers, which is no small matter.
What will his reign mean for climate?
His 2021 speech at COP26 in Glasgow referenced the need to “rescue this precious planet and save the threatened future of our young people.”
It stands as part of Charles’ public record. That in itself is a good indication of his intention … and a cause for celebration.