How might history view the reign of King Charles III? We suggest below that King Charles III. he has the opportunity to establish himself as a climate monarch, which would also radically differentiate him from the recently deceased and much-loved Queen Elizabeth II. Building on his work as an outspoken environmentalist, he could undertake subtle climate advocacy while respecting the boundaries and obligations of the monarchy.
Climate defense of King Charles III. will be particularly welcome as climate progress has stalled in recent months (except in bright spots such as Inflation Reduction Act). In response to rising energy prices and restrictions on Russian natural gas exports, countries are restarting coal-fired power plants and building expensive new infrastructure to transport natural gas from the US to Europe. Moreover, instead of allowing energy prices to rise (which is what carbon taxes are supposed to do), governments are announcing subsidies. Many US states have suspended the gas tax. Britain announced it household utility bills will be capped at £2,500. Germany and Austria they also promised support for households to cope with rising energy prices.
Charles III has impressive 50 years record of work on environmental causes. Last year at the COP 26 summit in Glasgow, where he gave a speech opening address, Charles (then Prince of Wales) remarked that “the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how devastating a global cross-border threat can be. Climate change and biodiversity loss are no different. In fact, they pose an even greater existential threat to the point that we must face what could be called a war.”
One might wonder why a constitutional monarch with no real authority would be able to influence climate policy. After all, he cannot punish or reward politicians (although he previously sent 44 “black spider” letters ministers for measures in environmental issues). The answer is the power of the tyrannical pulpit. In general, celebrities and influencers can focus public attention on specific issues and motivate political action. When the British monarch speaks, people tend to listen, even outside of Britain. The British royal family is incredibly fascinated, no doubt thanks to Buckingham Palace’s skillful media management and, more recently, popular TV shows such as Crown.
British conservatives, many of whom oppose aggressive climate action, have enormous respect for the monarchy. As climate consultant Nick Brooks notes: “King Charles III. could sway some pretty conservative people with well-crafted general messaging… those most resistant to climate messaging tend to be those who prefer hierarchical systems and you don’t get much more. hierarchical than monarchy’.
Balancing conflicting messages from Downing Street
Declaration of Charles III. the new monarch comes at an interesting time, as newly installed British Prime Minister Liz Truss appears to be putting the brakes on climate policy. She wants suspend green levies subsidize investments in renewable energy, cancel ban on shale miningand revisit Britain’s net zero emissions commitments. She has got appointed climate skeptics for ministerial positions: Anne-Marie Trevelyan as transport secretary and Rees-Mogg as Secretary of Commerce and Energy. The new business secretary Kemi Badenoch described net zero emissions targets as “unilateral economic disarmament”.
So what can King Charles III do?
Charles didn’t get off to a good start on climate protection. In his first speech as king he did not mention climate change. As it was a somber moment, it was perhaps inappropriate for him to talk about his personal agenda (as opposed to institutional duties).
But at the right time, King Charles III was able to launch two initiatives. First, he should switch the royal car fleet to EVs. Second, it should reduce Buckingham Palace’s carbon footprint. After all, he made extensive changes to his previous residence at the address Highgrove: “Sustainability is focused on the garden, which uses a rainwater irrigation system and solar panels. All waste materials are recycled and a specially designed reed drainage system manages waste water on the estate. The gardens are maintained so that they thrive in complete harmony with nature…”. Perhaps Charles could make Highgrove at Buckingham and eventually other royal estates (although he seems to have declined install wind turbines at Highgrove).
Critics might say that symbolic gestures do not address the structural problems that have caused the climate crisis. We agree that climate change has an important structural dimension that requires strong policy action. But the climate crisis also requires individuals to stand up in whatever way they can, instead of claiming they are powerless. The motto should be shared sacrifice and the rich and powerful should show the way. Individuals with institutional authority have the duty to set an example.
In an interview in 2020 World Economic Forum meeting, (then Prince of Wales) Charles remarked: “We can’t go on like this, every month another temperature record is broken… We want to go down in history as the people who did nothing, the world came back from the abyss in time to restore balance when could we do it? I don’t want to.” Perhaps King Charles III should start thinking about how he would like to go down in history. We suggest that he has an excellent opportunity to distinguish himself as and climatic monarch.