• Powered by
ContextKnow better. Do better.

How is King Charles pushing for climate action at COP27?

Britain's Charles, Prince of Wales arrives for a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 2, 2021. Jane Barlow/Pool via REUTERS

Britain's Charles, Prince of Wales arrives for a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 2, 2021. Jane Barlow/Pool via REUTERS

What’s the context?

King Charles will host a reception at Buckingham Palace with Rishi Sunak, Alok Sharma and John Kerry, ahead of COP27 in Egypt

LONDON - Under pressure to show leadership in tackling climate change, Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will now attend the U.N. COP27 summit, as well as a reception hosted by King Charles III at Buckingham Palace on Friday.

Charles - who has been a high-profile climate campaigner for decades - was advised by the government not to attend the talks in Egypt and will instead host a pre-summit gathering for more than 200 politicians, business leaders and activists.

As king, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September, Charles is expected to remain politically neutral - which is likely to place limits on his green activism.

A family moves to a safe place with their belongings after the flood situation worsened in Munshiganj district, on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Go DeeperWill COP27 see progress on 'loss and damage' from climate change?
Senegal's President Macky Sall speaks at a news conference on the second day of a European Union (EU) African Union (AU) summit at The European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium February 18, 2022. John Thys/Pool via REUTERS
Go DeeperAfrican leaders aim to put climate finance top of COP27 agenda
Politicians stand behind podiums in a television studio
Go DeeperRace for PM's job raises questions about UK climate leadership

Who has Charles invited to Buckingham Palace?

In addition to Sunak, guests at Friday's reception will include Alok Sharma, president of last year's COP26 summit in Glasgow, and U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, according to a royal operational note.

"The Prime Minister will say a few words," it said, adding that the event would mark the end of Britain's presidency of COP26 and look ahead to Sunday's COP27 conference in Egypt.

"His Majesty will then meet and hear from guests about practical measures to combat climate change and their plans for COP27 and beyond."

Why is Charles not attending COP27?

At the opening ceremony of last year's COP26, Charles said the world needed a "war-like footing" to tackle the "existential threat" of climate change and biodiversity loss.

But in his first speech to the nation after his mother's death, Charles warned that his new role meant it would "no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply".

A royal source said on Oct 2. that Charles would not travel to the COP27 gathering for his first overseas trip as sovereign, having sought government advice about the summit.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported at the time he had been told not to go by then prime minister Liz Truss.

In an interview with Sky News last week, U.S. envoy Kerry said it would be "terrific" if the king could attend.

"I know that his being there would make a difference ... because he has credibility, because he has been a long-term leader," he said. 

A spokeswoman for Sunak said on Friday she was not aware the advice provided under the previous government had changed.

Sunak faced widespread criticism from climate activists and politicians for his decision to skip the U.N. talks to work on domestic economic issues.

On Wednesday, he announced a change of heart.

"There is no long-term prosperity without action on climate change. There is no energy security without investing in renewables," Sunak said on Twitter.

King Charles III welcomes Rishi Sunak during an audience at Buckingham Palace, London, where he invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party to become Prime Minister and form a new government. Tuesday October 25, 2022. Aaron Chown/PA Wire Aaron Chown/Pool via REUTERS

King Charles III welcomes Rishi Sunak during an audience at Buckingham Palace, London, where he invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party to become Prime Minister and form a new government. Tuesday October 25, 2022. Aaron Chown/PA Wire Aaron Chown/Pool via REUTERS

King Charles III welcomes Rishi Sunak during an audience at Buckingham Palace, London, where he invited the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party to become Prime Minister and form a new government. Tuesday October 25, 2022. Aaron Chown/PA Wire Aaron Chown/Pool via REUTERS

What has 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.

"King Charles is the most experienced and best climate diplomat the UK has ... To pull him out of the COP27 summit can only undermine its chances of success."

Charles has called for governments to use incentives and regulation to encourage private-sector investment in climate action, and for the value of nature to be recognised on companies' balance sheets.

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 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.

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry poses in front of the Terra Carta with Britain's Prince Charles, who announced the Terra Carta Transition Coalitions at St James Palace, in London, Britain June 10, 2021. Chris Jackson/Pool via REUTERS

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry poses in front of the Terra Carta with Britain's Prince Charles, who announced the Terra Carta Transition Coalitions at St James Palace, in London, Britain June 10, 2021. Chris Jackson/Pool via REUTERS

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry poses in front of the Terra Carta with Britain's Prince Charles, who announced the Terra Carta Transition Coalitions at St James Palace, in London, Britain June 10, 2021. Chris Jackson/Pool via REUTERS

"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.

During the race to pick Britain's next prime minister - won by Liz Truss - activists criticised the lack of attention paid to climate issues by the ruling Conservatives.

What are 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, the government's advisory body for the environment.

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 Charles advocate for the climate as monarch?   

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, King 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 article was updated on November 2, 2022 after Rishi Sunak announced he will attend COP27.


Context is powered by the Thomson Reuters Foundation Newsroom.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles


Tags

Net-zero
Climate policy
Biodiversity

FEATURED PODCAST

An illustration photo shows the globe with a tree standing on top. On the left hand side, a red backed illustration shows barren trees and oil refinery towers. On the right hand side, a green backed illustration shows wind turbines and solar panels. A sound equaliser image crosses the screen to indicates audio.
6 EPISODES
Podcast

Just Transition

The human stories behind the shift to a green economy

Just Transition promo image
Podcast



Get our climate newsletter. Free. Every week.

By providing your email, you agree to our Privacy Policy.


Today On Context