As King Charles prepares for his coronation this weekend, a study has highlighted the economic impact of climate change on the Commonwealth group of countries he heads as Britain’s monarch - and revealed stark inequality within the bloc.
Under current global climate policies, Commonwealth nations face a median 63 per cent hit to their GDP by the end of the century, according to the charity Christian Aid.
And poorer Commonwealth members will be the hardest-hit economically although richer countries emit far more planet-warming emissions, underlining the need for the ‘loss and damage’ fund agreed at COP27 last year to start operating, the charity said.
For example, emissions per capita of the wealthiest four Commonwealth nations - Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand - at 41.1 tons of CO2, is 23 times larger than the figure for 10 least emitting countries combined - at 1.8 tons.
In a speech on Commonwealth Day in March, Charles highlighted “climate change and biodiversity loss” among “the most pressing issues of our time“, calling for joint action with Commonwealth countries.
Separately, the British government’s environmental advisory body Natural England has announced it will celebrate Charles’ coronation by declaring a “King’s Series” of 25 new nature reserves over the next five years.
As prince, Charles was one of the highest-profile global proponents for protecting the planet in recent decades, from writing books and making speeches about nature to working with business to mobilise private finance to combat global warming.
However, as king under a constitutional monarchy in Britain, Charles is expected to remain politically neutral like his late mother Queen Elizabeth.
Context spoke to several experts about what that might mean for his climate advocacy.
What has King Charles done for the environment?
While heir to the throne, Charles was an active campaigner for the environment over more than five decades.
In 1970, aged 21, he gave his first major speech on the issue, warning of the dangerous effects of plastic pollution.
“He’s been talking about these issues for a long time, way before they became mainstream,” Ed Matthew, campaigns director of think-tank E3G, told Context.
Along with speeches on the global stage, Charles has worked with the public, private and non-profit sectors.
He established the International Sustainability Unit in 2010 to address challenges such as protecting rainforests and marine ecosystems, and in 2021 launched a new charter of sustainable actions for companies to sign up to called “Terra Carta”.
“I have laboured for so many years to bring this issue to the forefront of international consciousness – not just with words, but with practical action,” said the then-prince in a speech in May 2022 in Yellowknife, Canada.
Matthew said Charles’ influence has been particularly valuable because - while being apolitical - he appeals to conservatives, in a similar vein to environmentalist David Attenborough, on an issue more often highlighted by the left.
“To make sure we go for really ambitious climate action in the UK, we need the conservative case for climate change to be made,” Matthew said.
What are King Charles’ views on climate change?
Environmental campaigner Tony Juniper first met Charles in the early 1990s, and has worked with him on projects including the 2010 book “Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World”.
“I think he probably has been about the most effective environmentalist in history,” said Juniper, who chairs Natural England.
Charles has successfully promoted the interconnection between humans and nature, he added.
“One of the most important unique contributions that he’s brought is this holistic perspective,” he said.
In an interview in December 2020, Charles said humans are “a microcosm of the macrocosm” when it comes to nature.
“If we go on exploiting the way we are, whatever we do to nature - however much we pollute her - we do to ourselves. It is insanity,” he told the BBC.
However, Charles has been accused of hypocrisy due to his use of private jets and helicopters, whose planet-heating emissions are much higher than other forms of transport and significantly more per passenger than commercial flights.
During the 2021-22 financial year as Prince of Wales, he took regular private flights domestically, as shown by royal financial statements.
Can King Charles talk about climate change?
While Queen Elizabeth II strictly guarded her personal views and was widely regarded as untouchable by the media, Charles has faced criticism for expressing political opinions.
Richard Black, a former BBC environment correspondent and founder of the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said Charles will be restricted by two main things: the pressures on his time due to the ceremonial duties of a king, and the likely scrutiny of his political neutrality.
This will make more hands-on work with businesses and in politics harder, he said.
As king, Charles could have a major influence - whether through speeches and behind-the-scenes meetings with world leaders, or private audiences with the UK prime minister.
On a personal level, he could lead by example, such as with his efforts to make the royal household greener.
Charles has been tracking and publishing his carbon footprint since 2007, making changes such as installing biomass boilers and solar panels at his homes and converting his Aston Martin to run on surplus wine and whey from cheese-making.
And to help avoid controversy, Charles could pass some projects on to family members, with his son, Prince William, also expressing a keen interest in environmental issues.
How to execute the role of monarch is up to the individual, said environmental campaigner Juniper.
“As far as I know, there is no job description for king.”
This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit https://www.context.news/.
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