(LONDON) — King Charles III wants to protect the planet for future generations — a passion he has highlighted throughout his decades as monarch-in-waiting.
Now, Charles ascends the throne as the longest-serving Prince of Wales in British history. And in those six decades, he not only voiced his concerns about the destructive processes that are harming the Earth but implemented sustainable, organic practices in his own homes.
“His mother took the crown at a very young age, and nobody knew what she stood for,” David Victor, a professor of innovation and public policy at the University of California at San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and author of “Fixing the Climate: Strategies for an Uncertain World,” told ABC News. “Whereas he is taking the crown very late in age, and everybody knows what he stands for — and for a whole range of topics.”
Charles’ efforts have also included championing initiatives to engage businesses around conversations about sustainability and, most importantly, focusing on trying to find solutions that work, Bob Ward, policy and communications director at The London School of Economics and Political Science’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, told ABC News.
“He’s used his position to raise awareness — not just in the U.K., but around the world,” Ward said. “He has, for a long, long time, probably earlier than many politicians, understood the importance of this issue.”
Due to his “extensive background” on environment and sustainability issues, there is “no doubt” that the depth of Charles’ commitment to it runs deep, Alden Meyer, a senior associate working on U.S. and international climate policy and politics at E3G, a London-based think tank on climate policy, told ABC News.
Here is why experts say Charles III will be known as the United Kingdom’s first “climate king”:
King Charles III began his environmental activism long before words like “sustainable,” “organic” and “grass-fed” were trendy. In fact, much of the British public viewed his passion for the environment as an “oddity” when it first began, Ward said.
“He was talking about this before it was cool,” Meyer said.
One of the “most interesting” tidbits about Charles’ history of engagement with environmental issues is the push he has made around landscapes, especially surrounding managing landscapes and the role of natural, working land has in absorbing carbon, as well as the role architecture plays in absorbing carbon, Victor said.
Charles’ gardens at Highgrove House, the estate in Gloucestershire he purchased in 1980, are a prime example of his early commitment to sustainability. The grounds feature organically maintained gardens, including a kitchen garden, formal garden and wild garden, the latter which serves as a sustainable habitat for birds and wildlife. Solar panels have also been installed, and waste from the house is filtered through a natural sewage system.
By doing this, the king has moved the conversation surrounding sustainability from focusing solely on industrial emissions to how climate change is also embedded into the landscape, Victor said.
In 1989, Charles wrote the book “A Vision of Britain,” in which he argued that the traditional methods of architecture and aesthetics used in the past in Britain should be used more in the future. That vision resulted in an experimental planned community of 3,500 in Dorset, a county on England’s southwest coast, which implemented traditional approaches and techniques honed over thousands of years in the U.K.
The community, named Poundbury, generally uses the development principles of New Urbanism, a framework that emphasizes walkability in cities. Sustainable methods of transportation, such as walking, biking and public transit, are key to incorporating a sustainable lifestyle, climate experts say.
Charles’ commitment to mitigating climate change has even been evident in recent years and months. He has been especially vocal about the climate crisis in the past five years.
In June 2021, before the G-7 summit commenced in Cornwall, Charles urged businesses to tackle the climate emergency alongside government, adding that unlocking cash within the private sector was the key to winning the battle against global warming and biodiversity loss.
Charles remained outspoken in the lead-up to COP26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference that began converging in Glasgow, Scotland, in October.
Weeks before the conference began, Charles implored world leaders to do more than “just talk” at the climate summit, which was billed by environmentalists as one of the last chances to change the trajectory of global warming.
From Prince George’s Wood, an arboretum Charles has created in the gardens of his house on the Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire, the-then Prince of Wales said it had taken “far too long” for the world to make the climate crisis a priority, adding that following his example of going meat- and fish-free two days a week and dairy-free one day a week could “reduce a lot of the pressure” on the collective carbon footprint.
The Prince of Wales Foundation and other entities and charities that Charles has been involved with have been deeply engaged, particularly in reaching out to the business community in the private sector and finance and encouraging them to step up their game, Meyer said.
Charles also attended a series of events at COP26, as did Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William and his wife, Catherine, then the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Charles’ passion even extends past the Earth’s own atmosphere. In July, the king-in-waiting called for an “Astro Carta” to establish sustainable space exploration, working with the Space Directorate of the U.K.’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to reduce emissions for future missions. That same month, he again urged for climate action as Europe experienced record-breaking heat waves, in which he described the temperatures as “alarming.”
Charles inherited his passion for conservation from his parents, and he has now passed it to his son and heir, Prince William, the new Prince of Wales, Ward said.
One of the most noted characteristics of Queen Elizabeth II was her love of dogs and horses, and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was a “very strong voice” for wildlife, even serving as patron for the World Wildlife Fund for much of his time as a working royal. In the 1950s, Charles and Princess Anne were photographed while meeting famed biologist and natural historian David Attenborough, and Charles has maintained the relationship with the former BBC broadcaster — even awarding the 96-year-old his second knighthood earlier this year.
The notion of being environmentally conscious is a very “British trait,” Ward said, adding that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was the first major world leader to talk about climate change at the United Nations in 1989.
While the queen was also interested in these issues, Meyer does not believe her ambition matches the extent of her son, a monarch who is now “deeply engaged, committed and knowledgable,” Meyer said.
“Charles is coming from a family that is, has expressed, you know, and use their voice frequently about environmental issues,” Ward said. “And his views on the environment are very much shared by wider society in the U.K.”
When the U.K. hosted COP26, the queen urged world leaders attending the summit to “rise above the politics of the moment” to find solutions to mitigate climate change.
Charles seems to have passed down his enthusiasm for the environment to Prince William. As the new Prince of Wales, William is currently head of the Earthshot Prize, which aims to promote impactful approaches to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, and is currently a WildAid ambassador for sharks, rhinos and elephants, of which he has been especially vocal in his efforts to protect the species from extinction.
“Charles has created a legacy within his own family,” Ward said.
The sentiment even extended to the queen’s death. After some of the thousands of mourners began to leave Paddington Bears and marmalade sandwiches in honor of the skit the queen filmed for the Platinum Jubilee in June, the Royal Parks issued a statement requesting that well-wishers only leave organic or compostable material, as well as flowers sans plastic wrap, in “the interests of sustainability.”
“We would prefer visitors not to bring non-floral objects/artefacts such as teddy bears or balloons,” the statement read.
As Prince of Wales, Charles was permitted to be more vocal about his ardor for protecting the environment. But now that he is king, Charles may be required to rein in his enthusiasm, the experts said.
“I think he will be careful about what he says in public,” Ward said. “He will know that there are limits on what he could and should be saying.”
Charles will likely have the most impact within his own realms, especially since, unlike in the U.S., every major business in the United Kingdom already knows they need to be “serious” about pushing sustainable practices, Victor said.
“He’s already pushing an open door,” Victor said.
Still, there’s a possibility that prompts and nudges from Charles to do more for the environment will not be fruitful.
“The king doesn’t actually have a huge amount of impact on the economy,” Victor said. “And, if anything, the monarchy has been paying very special attention to not overreaching, overstepping its role [of] what is normally considered the function of government.”
The institution’s tendency to take a step back and remain silent may be reinforced for Charles, who ascended the throne as a less popular monarch than his mother, the experts said.
Still, Charles will have the ears of major players who can make a difference, such as corporate leaders and top members of the government, such as Prime Minister Liz Truss, with whom he will conduct weekly audiences.
“That’s an opportunity for the monarch to ask questions about government policy, make recommendations, do a little advocacy privately,” Meyer said. “But that’s very different than the kind of public role that he’s had in his foundations.”
In addition, Ward said he expects that Charles will continue to deliver subtle messages supporting environmentalism in his annual televised Christmas speech.
“I would imagine that King Charles will continue that tradition, where he will talk about issues that are of importance,” Ward said.
The United Kingdom got a new prime minister and monarch in a matter of days.
Charles will now be working with Truss, who does not have a great track record of promoting environmentally friendly policies, the experts said.
“You’ve got a new prime minister coming in who is probably less committed and passionate about this issue than the outgoing prime minister,” Meyer said, adding that while Boris Johnson was not deeply passionate about environmental issues when he first took office, that changed as the need for developed countries to whittle their emissions down to net-zero became clear.
In addition, the U.K. is still in the middle of Brexit and disconnecting from the European economy — at the same time, the West is disconnecting from the Chinese economy, Victor said.
This could be a hindrance to the climate fight, as having access to a global economy will be necessary to implement the best and lowest-cost technologies into industries, Victor added.
“What’s going to be particularly interesting is what Charles says and does with regard to Britain’s place in the world concerning its interaction with the economies of other countries in the role of Britain and cooperating with other countries,” Victor said.
The king has a long-standing appreciation of the importance of environmental issues and has a deeper connection to the environment than most, but that experience may be connected to his privilege, the experts said.
Charles will need to toe the line as he encourages the masses to live sustainably, especially since most are not afforded the wealth, influence and privilege to do so, they added.
While Charles was a pioneer in organic farming, he had the means to completely transform the overgrown land he purchased at Highgrove and employ top architects and gardeners to help him see his vision through, Victor said. In addition, the average person cannot transform their Aston Martin to run on biodiesel, let alone even own a luxury vehicle.
“That’s something you can do if you have a lot of land and a lot of money,” Victor said. “The bigger challenge for deep decarbonization and for managing landscape is what you do with the large fraction of the public that can’t afford to eat that way.”
Striking the right tone will be especially crucial as the U.K. reels from the energy crisis that resulted from the aftereffects of eliminating coal consumption combined with its dependence on Russian oil. Analysts are expecting a tough winter for the majority of residents in the United Kingdom as gas prices continue to skyrocket, sending the costs to heat homes even higher, Meyer said.
Still, Victor believes the world will underestimate Charles and his ability to encourage advances in the climate fight.
“It’s very hard to judge a public figure, especially a public figure who is an institution that requires you to be quiet,” he added.
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