King Charles III and the Queen Consort Camilla attend COP26 in Scotland last year as the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. | Phil Noble – Pool/Getty Images
In his first speech to the nation on the death of Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III stated: “My life will, of course, change as I take up my new responsibilities. It will no longer be possible for me to give my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply…..”
Ahead of his time
As Prince Charles, the new king was seen as an environmental and climate champion long before most of the rest of the world was aware of the issues. In a speech made in 1970, he spoke of many issues topical today – global overpopulation exceeding the world’s resources, single-use plastic, oil pollution of the sea and pollution caused by carbon emissions. To quote himself, he was then considered “rather dotty”.
50 years later the world has caught up with him and at COP 26 in Glasgow last year, he told global leaders that climate change and the threat to biodiversity posed a great existential threat, adding that the world needed to put itself on a “war-like footing”.
“With a growing global population creating ever increasing demand on the planet’s finite resources, we have to reduce emissions urgently and take action to tackle the carbon already in the atmosphere, including from coal fired power stations,” he explained.
Our new King has also for a long time put his money where his mouth is. He is well known for his innovative eco-friendly gardening methods at Highgrove. Managed organically and sustainably, the gardens include rainwater collection, a reed bed sewage system, composting, natural fertilisers using manure from his farms’ cattle, natural weed and pest control and gardening for wildlife including a stumpery and a wildflower meadow.
And what of the future?
Will Charles really no longer speak about the causes for which he is so passionate? Climate consultant Nick Brooks thinks not. “He might sway some quite conservative folks with well-crafted general messaging,” he said. “Those most resistant to climate messaging tend to be those who prefer hierarchical systems and you don’t get much more hierarchical than the monarchy.”
In his first speech as king, Charles added “but I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.” Is it possible that he was referring here to his son William, the new Prince of Wales, who has been vocal on climate issues just as his father and grandfather were before him? In 2021 he co-led with Richard Attenborough the Earthshot Prize which will over the next decade award 5 prizes a year to the groups or individuals who devise the most inspiring and workable solutions to have a positive effect on environmental change and improve living standards for those most at risk from climate change.
In 2020 he said: “My grandfather’s well ahead of his time. My father, ahead of his time. And I really want to make sure that, in 20 years, George doesn’t turn round and say, ‘are you ahead of your time?’ Because if he does, we’re too late.’
We can only hope that the tide has turned sufficiently for that not to be the case.