King Charles’ climate activism must not take a back seat once he is crowned


King Charles at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (Image: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the most striking features of the extraordinary past two weeks has been the extent to which the Queen has been respected, admired and loved even by non-royalists.

And while those sentiments are certainly not universal, in many ways the country feels more united than it has in a while.

This ability to unite for what we have in common could not be more important at this point in our shared history.

A war in Ukraine is killing thousands and threatening a peace in the rest of Europe that seems as lifelong and enduring to most of us as the Queen herself.

Energy bills are skyrocketing as a result of our destructive dependence on fossil fuels; and a cost of living scandal plunges millions into poverty.

At the same time, there is a fast-closing window to avert a climate catastrophe, signs of which are becoming ever clearer.

From deadly floods in Pakistan that killed 1,500 people and displaced millions, to the 53,000 extra deaths in the EU in July after record-breaking heatwaves and one of the worst droughts in Britain in living memory.

Tackling the climate emergency is a critical piece of the puzzle to solving other national crises — making our energy system less vulnerable to fluctuating gas prices, keeping our homes insulated year-round, and lowering our household bills.

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It is also an opportunity to right some of the imperial and colonialist injustices that Britain has perpetuated in the past – by placing climate justice and climate reparations at the center of the global response.

Having a monarch in King Charles who has used his platform to articulate the threat the climate emergency poses to all of us for well over 50 years is significant even for those of us who fundamentally disagree with the principle of inheritance .

As early as 1970, Charles spoke out as a young 21-year-old, warning of “the horrific effects of pollution in all its cancerous forms.”

In 2013, he slammed the “die-hard skeptics” and “corporate lobbyists” who oppose climate action and push us deeper into crisis.

And he’s met and spoken to US climate chief John Kerry.

That doesn’t make his environmental record perfect by any means – the call to block wind farms on his own estate in the Duchy of Cornwall was unnecessary.

Nor does it excuse the fundamental failings attributed to the institution it represents. The history of the British monarchy cannot be divorced from British complicity in slavery, the plundering of people and natural resources in the name of Empire.

The royal family will increasingly risk undermining popular support if they don’t apologize for slavery, as many are demanding, and take serious steps to make amends for the past.

The monarchy can do more to lead from the front – and we should welcome that opportunity.

As his constitutional role changes, King Charles may not be able to speak out in the way he did before — but if we’re at loggerheads with the climate emergency, there are certainly steps an environmentally conscious monarch can take to help make a difference close.

CRATHIE, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 1: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (known in Scotland as the Duke of Rothesay) head to the Balmoral Estate Cricket Pavilion to mark the start of the official planting season for the Queen's green canopy (QGC) at the Balmoral Estate on October 1, 2021 near Crathie, Scotland. The QGC is a British Platinum Jubilee initiative that will create a lasting legacy in honor of the Queen's 70 years of service to the nation through a network of trees planted in her name. (Photo by Andrew Milligan-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The Queen had 70 years to make history, Charles will have a lot less (Picture: Getty)

First, let’s look at the land use of the monarchy.

The UK has emerged as one of the most naturally depleted countries in the world – but there are also 850,000 acres of crown land owned by the monarchy with enormous potential to be naturally rich and thrive.

If rewilded effectively, these lands could make a difference in addressing the natural emergency – and would send a message to all other major landowners in the UK to join the national effort to reverse the destruction of our biodiversity and wildlife.

And let’s open some of these spaces not only to nature but also to the general public.

If it’s true that King Charles wants to continue using Clarence House as his home rather than Buckingham Palace, then perhaps it’s time to merge the palace’s private gardens with nearby Green Park to create one vast green space across London to create and achieve a tangible public benefit.

There are many other examples that a climate-active monarchy could set.

All royal palaces could become carbon neutral; King Charles could ensure the entire royal family switch to electric cars; Travel within the UK could be made by train rather than by plane or helicopter; Meat could be served less frequently at state banquets.

None of this will fully mitigate the huge ecological footprint associated with the monarchy’s vast wealth and privileges, but it would send a symbolic message to the entire world that climate action matters to all of us.

We are marking the end of an era and for better or for worse we have a monarch.

I can’t think of a better way to use the soft power this role enjoys than to make sure Charles’ words about the environment really count.

Queen Elizabeth has had seven decades to make history, King Charles will have far less. But uniting Britain and the world in an appropriate response to the climate crisis could be an even more meaningful legacy.

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Justin Scacco

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