King Charles III: Climate change can be defining issue of new monarch’s reign – Martyn McLaughlin

For all the public outpouring of sympathy that has been directed his way following the death of his mother, it is an indisputable fact that King Charles III faces an uphill battle in keeping the monarchy central to the lives of ordinary people across Britain.

Such was the unprecedented reign of Elizabeth II, who came to define the very institution she helmed, her eldest son must rise to the challenge of differentiating his tenure, and continuing the long and necessary process of renewal and adaptation to ensure the monarchy remains relevant.

It would, therefore, be a lost opportunity if the 73-year-old chose to cast aside more than five decades of experience as one of the world’s highest profile environmentalists, especially at a time when such figures are sorely needed.

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In his first televised address to the nation, the King once derided as the “meddling prince” moved to allay any fears that he would enter the political fray, insisting that it was no longer possible for him to “give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply”.

A great deal has been read into those comments, but it would be premature to suggest the King will not continue to engage with the topic of climate change. With a subtle shift in tone and strategy, he could do so without overstepping the boundaries of his politically neutral constitutional role.

Many will remember the era when Charles was dismissed as a crank on account of his environmental campaigning, first evidenced in 1970 when, aged just 21, he warned of the dangers of plastic and chemical pollution.

The decades since have shown he was ahead of the curve, and the breadth of his contributions on issues such as biodiversity loss and deforestation have earned him lasting respect. Indeed, he has played a central role in bringing green issues to the mainstream of political discourse.

Some royalist commentators believe he will now seek to transfer that advocacy role to his eldest son. After all, the new Prince of Wales has already expressed concern over climate change, founding the Earthshot climate innovation prize, and criticising private space exploration as a waste of resources that could instead be used “to repair this planet”.

While serving as the Prince of Wales, King Charles III made a stirring speech at last year's COP26 climate change summit (Picture: Yves Herman/WPA pool/Getty Images)While serving as the Prince of Wales, King Charles III made a stirring speech at last year's COP26 climate change summit (Picture: Yves Herman/WPA pool/Getty Images)
While serving as the Prince of Wales, King Charles III made a stirring speech at last year's COP26 climate change summit (Picture: Yves Herman/WPA pool/Getty Images)

But for all William’s popularity, he is not monarch. When a King speaks, people listen, and the audience someone like King Charles commands is truly global. For that very reason, his voice should not be silenced.

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Of course, it would be disingenuous to deny that there is an inherent tension in this proposal. The new government of Prime Minister Liz Truss seems intent on wrecking all previous climate pledges in the name of political and economic expediency, lifting the ban on shale drilling in England and ramping up fossil fuel investment.

But as Elizabeth II would no doubt have attested, Prime Ministers come and go. In any case, it is inconceivable that the new King, whose apprenticeship spanned more than half a century, would be so consumed by his passions as to consider refusing assent for any legislation.

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Even when confronted with the wilder and more reckless ideas sure to be dreamt up by the new Energy Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man who has previously dismissed the environmental lobby as the “green blob”, Charles will surely not be baited.

Instead, he has an opportunity to use his knowledge to quietly influence not just the country, but the wider world, in the face of looming catastrophe.

He can do so both in private and by example, whether by probing the intentions and policies of Ms Truss and her government during their weekly meetings, or by continuing to drive down the carbon footprint of his own family – a persuasive and politically astute tactic.

Yet his influence should not be so quiet as to go unheard by the public. His address to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last autumn may offer an instructive example. Back then, Charles eschewed any criticism of UK Government inaction, and instead focused on the bigger picture.

“Our efforts cannot be a series of independent initiatives running in parallel,” he cautioned. “The scale and scope of the threat we face call for a global, systems-level solution, based on radically transforming our current fossil fuel-based economy to one that is genuinely renewable and sustainable.”

Now that he is monarch, would similar comments be perceived as political interference? Some would no doubt think so, but they would do well to remember that at the same summit, a video message from Elizabeth II told world leaders that “the time for words has now moved to the time for action”.

Already, some leaders have expressed support for the idea that the King should not feel constrained from addressing such an important issue.

Anthony Albanese, the Australian Prime Minister, reasoned that “engagement in issues is very different from engagement in party political matters”. He said: “I think dealing with the challenge of climate change shouldn't be seen as a political issue. It should be seen as an issue that is about humanity and about our very quality of life and survival as a world.”

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The truth, too, is that the issues King Charles holds so dear are inextricably linked to his new role. Think how vital the issues of climate finance and climate adaptation are to Commonwealth nations such as Mozambique, the Bahamas, and Malawi, who are being hit the hardest by climate-related extreme weather events. Would it not be negligent of the new head of the Commonwealth not to raise such fundamental problems and seek to solve them?

At the end of the day, there is no prescribed job description for a monarch, and the 70-year reign of Elizabeth II means that few people can recall a different approach. Is it really the case that in order to fulfil one duty, the new King must abandon all others?



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