“Stability”, “constancy” and “duty” are adjectives we have heard many times this week as commentators reflect upon Queen Elizabeth II’s seven decade reign. In part, her success and the enduring popularity of the monarchy can be attributed to the Queen’s ability to remain distinct from Westminster squabble.
The same cannot be said for her son, the new King Charles III, who in his own words, has a habit of “sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off”. It is on climate change and the environment that the King has been most outspoken, and arguably the most successful. His climate activism began half a century ago, with a speech in 1970 on the “cancerous forms” of pollution, and since then the King has written books, established foundations and lobbied ministers on environmental causes. In his personal life, the heir apparent pursued a green agenda, installing solar panels on Clarence House, and hydroelectric turbines and biomass boilers at Balmoral. The King’s vintage Aston Martin even runs on excess wine and cheese whey.
So the question is now whether King Charles will resign himself to political neutrality like his mother, or defy convention and become an “ecological warrior King” as the Washington Post suggests.
Even if the King does pursue a more activist approach, he has already shown he is cognisant of the constraints placed upon him. In the first few days of his reign he has already pledged several times to “maintain the precious principles of constitutional government which lie at the heart of our nation”. However there are subtle ways in which the King can continue to champion the environmental issues so close to his heart.
King Charles can demonstrate his support through his choice of visits and speeches, albeit using more veiled language. We should expect increasing patronage of environmental charities, a determination to attend totemic events such as November’s COP 27, and the use of other mechanisms – such as the honours system – to reward those who share his prioritisation of the environment.
What is less clear is whether we will see Prince William become a more vocal advocate on the issue of climate change, or whether the new King can successfully mobilise an at times reluctant Commonwealth to spearhead multilateral efforts to combat it. Needless to say, we imagine Liz Truss’s weekly visit to the King may become one the new PM, and her pro-fracking administration, come to dread.
Monarchist, Republican or somewhere in between, the past week has been a strange one by all accounts. But for the climate conscious amongst us, the coronation of King Charles may be the moment we have been waiting for. A leader with decades of environmental activism and a mindset defined in centuries rather than election cycles, King Charles’ reign could conserve a world for many monarchs to come.