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Constitution stops Charles becoming Britain’s ‘green’ king

LONDON (AP) — On a blustery day in November last year, Britain’s future king stood before world leaders with a rallying cry that they should “act with all dispatch and decisiveness” to confront a common enemy.

The clarion call — during the opening of the UN climate conference in the vast, windowless hall of the Glasgow Convention Center — concerned an issue long dear to the heart of then-Prince Charles.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are no different from the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. “In fact, they pose an even greater existential threat, to the extent that we ourselves can be called war-like actions.”

He warned leaders that time was running out to cut emissions, urging them to press ahead with reforms that “make our current fossil fuel-based economy truly renewable and sustainable”.

“We need a massive military-style campaign to marshal the power of the global private sector,” he said, adding that the trillions in business settlements would go far beyond what governments could muster and were “the only real possibility of achieving fundamental economic change.”

It was a deadly call to arms, in contrast to the gentle plea given by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in a video message that evening.

For decades, Charles has been one of Britain’s leading environmental voices, blasting the ills of pollution. Now that he is king, he is bound to be more careful with his words and stay out of politics and government policy, in keeping with the tradition of Britain’s constitutional monarchy.

“Now that Charles is king, he will have much less freedom of strategy,” said Robert Hazell, an expert on British constitutional affairs at University College London.

“All his speeches are written or vetted by the government,” Hazell said. “If he makes an impromptu remark that appears to be in conflict with government policy, the press will highlight the anomaly and the government will rein him in; He has to be much less outspoken than he has been in the past.”

Still, many say he will suddenly stop discussing climate change and the environment — not least because they are above political ideology.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said last week That it would be “perfectly acceptable” for the monarch to advocate for climate action, even though his role is meant to be apolitical.

“The monarchy’s distance from party political issues is important,” Albanese told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. But there are issues like climate change where I think if he wants to continue to make statements in that area, I think that’s perfectly acceptable.”

“It should be something that needs to be done about climate change, above politics,” he added.

Maintaining climate silence may be particularly difficult for Charles in light of the current Conservative government’s ambivalent stance. Although the government has said it is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to ‘net zero’ by mid-century, Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said Britain should try to burn fossil fuels.

“We have to think about extracting every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea,” he said in a recent radio interview, citing the need for energy security.

In the past Rees-Mogg has spoken out against building more on-shore wind farms in Britain and questioned the impact that rising carbon dioxide emissions are having on the climate, although experts say the warming effect of rising CO2 levels is clear.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has similarly advocated exploiting the country’s natural gas reserves, including fracking exploration in parts of the UK, to increase the country’s domestic gas supply and reduce dependence on international gas prices. Earlier this month, the Truss government lifted a 2019 ban on the controversial practice of fracking for shale gas in England.

As environment secretary in 2014, Truss called large-scale solar farms “a blight on the landscape” and scrapped subsidies to farmers and landowners to build them.

Speaking in a 2018 BBC documentary to mark Charles’ 70th birthday, his sons William and Harry expressed the frustration their father felt at the world’s failure to tackle environmental challenges. They recall how, as teenagers, Charles would make them obsess over the need to pick up the trash and turn off the lights on holidays.

Such small operations pale in comparison to the air miles King has racked up jetting around the world throughout his life — though he claims he’s converted his Aston Martin to run surplus white wine and cheese.

Charles’s lament that many people “generally don’t pay attention to science” on climate change is echoed by those who point out that he has long been an advocate of unproven naturopathy.

Some of Charles’s subjects want him to continue fighting climate change as king.

Yet the new king himself admits that his role as eco-warrior may not last, at least in its current form.

“I’m not that stupid,” he told the BBC four years ago when asked whether he would continue his activism.

A prince’s battles are not a king’s, he explained, but clarified that they could still be fought by the next in line, Prince William.

In his first address as sovereign to the nation on 9 September, Charles insisted that “it would not be possible for me to give so much time and energy to the charities and causes for which I care so deeply.”

“But I know this important work will be in the trusted hands of others,” he added.

Like Charles, 40-year-old William has made climate change one of his main advocacy issues and last year he made his mark by awarding the first EarthShot Prize, an ambitious “legacy project” the prince established to award millions of pounds to the environment. Initiatives around the world in the next 10 years. But his efforts have been undermined by criticism that his conservation charity has invested in a bank that is one of the world’s biggest backers of fossil fuels..


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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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