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How could Charles III become the 'Climate King'?

In this article we'll explore how King Charles might be able to influence environmental change
Ecology News
2023-09-21T00:00:00.000Z
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Close up of Buckingham Palace gate with gold decoration and the royal coat of arms and grown

For decades the UK’s new King, King Charles III, has campaigned for environmental issues such as sustainability, conservation, and climate change - even before these topics hit the mainstream. In fact, at times, the then Prince of Wales received criticism for meddling too much and for being too opinionated on the matter - yet, much to his credit, he didn’t let this dissuade him from championing the cause. And while we can expect the King to be less outspoken in his new role, his passion for the environment and his legacy of environmental activism will continue on through the work he performs as sovereign.

It's also significant to mention that the perception of climate change has evolved over time. Once a divisive, politically charged topic, it has moved into the realm of widely accepted scientific fact. This shift has defused much of the controversy surrounding the issue, positioning it as a pressing concern for all of humanity rather than a matter of political debate. This change in perception broadens the scope within which King Charles can engage with environmental topics, allowing him to do so without the risk of crossing political boundaries.

👉 In this article we’ll briefly explore King Charles’ ascent to the throne, before going on to discover what kind of political sway is granted to the monarchy, and how King Charles might be able to influence environmental change.

Charles III’s coronation at Westminster Abbey

What happened on May 6th?

The coronation of King Charles III on May 6th, 2023, gave viewers across the globe a view into the historic pageantry of the royal family and exposed new generations to their pomp and splendor.

The last coronation took place 70 years ago in 1953 at Westminster Abbey in London. Queen Elizabeth II was only 25 years old (vs. Prince Charles' more seasoned 74 years) when she ascended the British throne, following the tragic death of her father, George VI.

It must have also been a bittersweet moment for King Charles; he finally fulfilled his birthright, but given that the role is an inherited one, it comes in the wake of the loss of his mother, the much-loved and respected Queen Elizabeth II. Still, the day was one of celebration and not only drew crowds from across the country but also attracted the attention of an estimated 400 million viewers worldwide!

The event took place on May 6th, 2023, at the historic Westminster Abbey (where the coronations of British royals have taken place for the last nine centuries), and marked a weekend of celebrations. UK Citizens were also invited to partake, with Monday 8th even being declared a national holiday! 

Undoubtedly, the event was one for the history books and King Charles now has the opportunity to write his own legacy as King of the United Kingdom. So who exactly is the man behind the crown, and what can we expect from the reign of King Charles when it comes to the environment?

The ascent of King Charles to the throne also marks a moment of celebration for environmental activists who hope that he’ll be able to use his influence and position to further climate causes. King Charles has been a proponent of environmental issues from an incredibly young age and was a champion of the cause long before it hit the mainstream.
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Quick reminder: who is Charles III?

Early life and family

Prince Charles (full name: Charles Philip Arthur George) was the first child of the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Born in 1948 at Buckingham Palace, Prince Charles' birth was followed by that of his sister Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, in 1950, then by Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, in 1960, and finally by the baby of the family, Prince Edward, the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1964.

Prince Charles was only three years old when his grandfather, King George VI, died from cancer. His mother ascended the throne as Queen Elizabeth II, which made Prince Charles the heir apparent.

The Prince of Wales is a title that is traditionally given to the heir apparent of the British throne. Charles was given the title in 1958, though he was only crowned as the Prince of Wales in 1969, during a televised ceremony.

Education and adulthood

Educated at Cheam, and then Gordonstoun in Scotland, Prince Charles went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. He then went on to attend the Royal Air Force College in 1971, before enrolling at the Royal Naval College at the end of the same year. Charles served in the Royal Air Force and the Navy for a period of 5 years, from 1971 - 1976. Rather impressively, he trained as a jet pilot, before also qualifying as a helicopter pilot.

It was the following year, in 1977, that he would meet his future wife, Diana Frances Spencer. They would go on to marry in 1981 at St Paul's Cathedral, at which point Diana became the Princess of Wales.

Princess Diana attracted a lot of media attention and their coupling propelled them into the centre of the global media. Their relationship and marriage was often fodder for the tabloids and they eventually ended up divorcing in 1996, but not before first having two children - Prince William and Prince Harry.

Sadly, tragedy would strike the royal family the following year, and in 1997 Diana died in a horrific car crash in central Paris.

Surrounded by an air of controversy - on account of the alleged affairs that took place between them during Prince Charles' marriage to Princess Diana - Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles would go on to marry in 2005 at Windsor Guildhall. The civil ceremony was followed by a Church of England service at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The couple were then to enjoy a period of calm, carrying out official royal duties and engagements. In addition to the work Prince Charles performed for his youth charity, The Prince's Trust, he is also a patron, president, or member of over 400 different charities and organizations, and in recent years also increasingly took on the obligations of his aging mother.

It is through King Charles' work and public appearances that we're able to get a better sense of who he is as a person and the different issues that move him the most.

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The King's interests and passions

King Charles III is probably most widely known for his views on the environment and for his passion when it comes to organic farming and sustainability. 

With an extensive background in environmental issues, there can be no doubt that climate change and sustainability are topics that King Charles holds dear. Perhaps this is best displayed through the work that he has done on the Duchy of Cornwall Estates. During his time as manager, King Charles adopted a number of progressive farming practices and focused the conversation on sustainability and tackling emissions.

British countryside with fields and farm animals and trees

What has Charles III done for the environment so far?

The Duchy of Cornwall and organic farming

As the eldest son of the reigning monarch, King Charles III, who was then known as the Prince of Wales, became the owner of the Duchy of Cornwall.

The Duchy of Cornwall is a private estate established by King Edward III in 1337. Situated predominantly in the South West of England, the Duchy is made up of over 52,000 hectares of land. Its main activity is the commercial, yet sustainable management of the land and its properties.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of the Duchy of Cornwall is the organic farm known as the Duchy Home Farm. Situated in the gardens of the King Charles country home - Highgrove House - the farm produces organic ingredients that are then used to make Duchy Originals products; these can be found in retailers across the United Kingdom.

As a strong proponent of organic farming, King Charles III founded Duchy Originals in 1990. It's since developed into one of the most successful organic food and drink brands in the UK.

Early on in adulthood, Charles became interested in the advantages of organic farming - most notably, for its environmental benefits. He converted the Duchy Farm to an organic operation as early as 1985, stating that he "wanted to focus on an approach to food production that avoids the impact of the predominant, conventional system of industrialized agriculture, which, it is increasingly clear to see, is having a disastrous effect on soil fertility, biodiversity and animal and human health."

The organic venture, as part of the parcel that is the Duchy of Cornwall, has now passed on to the new heir apparent, and the next in line to the throne: Prince William, The Prince of Wales. Prince William has displayed his own interest in environmental issues: the Royal Foundation, which is headed up by Prince William and Duchess Kate recently launched the Earthshot Prize. It’s a competition that aims to find and support creative solutions to help us repair the planet. 

However, the recent history of the organic farm sheds some light on King Charles's commitment to the environment and begs the question - what kind of influence can King Charles have when it comes to climate change and environmental matters?

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An outspoken King

Prior to ascending to the throne, the Prince of Wales, was known for his outspoken attitude. A strong supporter of conservation and climate action, Prince Charles was no stranger to being accused of interfering with political and public matters. So much so in fact, that palace courtiers were apparently concerned that Charles would adopt a radical style of monarchy, imposing his opinions on issues such as global warming and other environmental issues. 

Prince Charles has this reputation for a reason. For over five decades he’s championed topics that are close to his heart.

In some ways, he’s been an activist for the causes that he cares about, and has tried to use his role as a working member of the royal household, to highlight issues that he considers to be important. He can be attributed with bringing up topics such as climate change decades before it hit the mainstream.

Microphone in centre stage

Environmental track record

So what exactly is King Charles’ track record when it comes to the environment? 

It can be said that King Charles has been a lifelong environmental activist. As early as 1970, at the age of only 21, the young Prince of Wales gave a speech to the Countryside Steering Committee for Wales, speaking of his concern over the environmental impact of oil pollution and plastic waste. What makes this all the more impressive is the fact that his opinions weren’t of the majority - in fact, they went against the grain and led many to view him as a bit of an oddity at the time.   

Another impressive example of King Charles’ willingness to step up to the plate when it comes to environmental activism can be seen when he, famously, invited delegates from the landmark UN Earth Summit of 1992, to an informal reception onboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. It was off the coast of Brazil, where the future King was said to have challenged these political players and business leaders on their intentions for the upcoming UN summit in Rio. The event marked the first time in over 20 years that United Nations Members were to convene to discuss environmental concerns. Reportedly, Prince Charles called on delegates to show ‘vision and courage’ in discussions. 

These two events perhaps best embody King Charles’ commitment and willingness to lead the charge on environmental discussions, however, King Charles III has since gone on to publicly speak about environmental issues at numerous global events. This includes a speech to the European Parliament in 2008, where the then Prince of Wales, highlighted the doomsday urgency of fighting climate change. And more recently, when King Charles spoke on the role of the private sector in supporting decarbonization and the transition to net zero emissions, at the UN Climate Summit COP26 in 2021.

King Charles' passion for the environment is also clear for everyone to see on the YouTube channel launched by the senior royal. RE:TV was announced at the World Economic Forum at Davos in January 2020 and aims to "highlight some of the inspiring innovations and ideas that are emerging in response to the climate and biodiversity crisis." King Charles hopes that by providing a platform for the growing community of change-makers around the world, businesses can be encouraged to become part of the climate solution.

The channel features over 70 videos, filmed by local crews from all over the world. These films explore a wide range of climate-related themes from direct-air carbon capture and sustainable aviation to regenerative agriculture and plastic waste recycling.

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Does King Charles hold any political sway?

The British monarchy is the oldest form of government in the UK, however, these days they’re really more of a figurehead; a focus for national identity, pride and unity (according to some at least). Said to bring the UK a sense of continuity and ongoing stability, the monarch retains certain ceremonial constitutional and representational duties. However, the British monarchy is what’s known as a constitutional monarchy, which means that they no longer hold any real political or executive power. Translation: although the new King is uninvolved with the formation of laws or policies, King Charles III is still technically the UK’s ‘head of state’. 

Under the constitution, the head of state must follow the advice of the democratically elected UK Government and must respect their decisions. The largely ceremonial role of the monarchy includes duties such as the appointment of the Prime Minister and all other UK Government ministers, the opening of new parliamentary sessions at Westminster, and the granting of royal assent to all bills passed by the UK parliament (this formally signifies that the bill has passed into UK law). 

In addition to these duties, King Charles III can also expect to receive: monthly meetings of the Privy Council (i.e.. a formal body of advisors, mainly made up of senior politicians), incoming and outgoing ambassadors, and state papers for signature. King Charles will also be expected to attend regular meetings with senior officials, additionally, he is entitled to weekly meetings with the Prime Minister of the UK (who at this point is Rishi Sunak).  

As you can see, despite the fact that King Charles officially holds very little real political power - he has incredible access to people who do, and some believe (or worry) that this affords him more political sway than it should.

infographic about King Charles' powers

Backdoor dealings

Recent revelations in British newspapers have revealed just how extensive and persuasive the influence of the monarchy can be when it comes to British politics. 

A Guardian article revealed that over 1,000 laws were vetted by either the Queen or Prince Charles prior to being approved by the UK Government, through what it terms a ‘secretive procedure’. The Guardian’s investigation gives rise to questions over just how much influence the royals truly have behind closed doors. The laws that the UK royals were said to have been consulted on covered a range of topics, spanning from justice to pensions, to food policies. And evidence suggests the Queen may have used this procedure to exact influence and sway political outcomes when it has been of direct benefit to the royal family. 

The procedure is intended as a formality and allows senior royals to see any legislation that may affect the crown in advance of parliament. However, the evidence seems to suggest that on occasion the monarchy has actually sought to influence policies and legislation. This has mainly been where the policies or legislation affect the direct interests of the crown. For example, Queen Elizabeth and her advisors persuaded the UK Government to change UK transparency laws in order to conceal her private wealth from the UK public. Additionally, the monarchy have lobbied for exemptions to land laws and road safety legislation when it comes to royal estates. 

King Charles also seems to have played his own part in influencing UK laws. The Guardian asserts that he exerted influence on members of parliament to provide an exception from a law giving tenants the right to buy their own homes.  

In fact, King Charles was even asked by the UK Government for his approval of the UK’s Environment Act which aims to ‘halt the decline of species by 2030, clean up our air and protect the health of our rivers, reform the way in which we deal with waste and tackle deforestation overseas’. 

The Environment Minister at the time, Rebecca Pow, contacted the then Prince of Wales for approval of the environment bill due to the fact that the bill contained conservation measures that would affect the interests of the crown - namely, the Duchy of Cornwall, the land estate and farm belonging to the Prince of Wales. 

The Environment Act requires that landowners do not carry out certain environmentally harmful activities. Happily, it seems that the Prince of Wales did not object to the contents of the bill, however, given the monarchy’s alleged history of influencing UK policies and laws, it’s controversial, to say the least. 

Is it therefore that much of a stretch to believe that King Charles III might use his contacts and access to the processes of the UK Government in order to sway policies and legislation? And may he be inclined to do so when it comes to matters of environmental concern?

Shot of the UK houses of Parliament and the River Thames

What to expect from King Charles III

Well, according to King Charles, the answer is no. The royal claims that he is aware of the changed nature of his position since becoming King, and accepts the expectation that the sovereign refrains from expressing their personal opinions on political topics, and from interfering with the functioning of elected UK Government officials.

In fact, it has even been reported that King Charles agreed to step back from participating in the COP27 summit in November 2022, where he was speculated to be giving a speech. 

However, this more restrained approach doesn’t mean that King Charles has given up on his environmental activism. It simply signals a more refined approach when it comes to exerting influence (at least in front of the press). King Charles has focused on certain charities and initiatives that he intends to devote his time to as King - and unsurprisingly, one such priority is the environment.

King Charles may have had to step back from attending COP27, however, he held a reception ahead of the convention, bringing together business and political leaders to discuss plans to combat climate change - clearly he’s not afraid of using his position and influence for the benefit of the cause.

The more controversial question is whether or not King Charles will use his political access to sway the balance when it comes to UK legislation and policies concerning climate change. One one hand his passion for the environment might be of benefit, but on the other hand the monarchy’s political role is supposed to be a formality only. Many, quite rightly, see it as incredibly unjust that the royal family is able to influence UK politics in any way - especially  when the alleged use has been for benefit to the crown estate, sometimes to the detriment of the general public. 

Charles is new to the role of King, however, his actions and initiatives since ascending to the throne give us a glimpse as to what to expect when it comes to his reign and commitment to the global fight against climate change. On the world stage we can expect a slightly more subdued form of activism, however, behind the scenes, King Charles’ passion for environmentalism still burns strongly.

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What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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