At last year’s UN climate conference, King Charles – or Prince Charles as he was back then – was one of the stars of the show, making a call for world leaders to adopt a “war-like footing” over the climate crisis. But this year, he’ll have to follow the summit from home, following what was presented as a dispute-free agreement that he shouldn’t go.
The UK’s new monarch, who took the throne when his mother Queen Elizabeth II died last month, intended to deliver a speech to world leaders at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt on November 6-18. But the plan was axed after Prime Minister Liz Truss reportedly opposed it during an audience with Charles, the Sunday Times reported.
Buckingham Palace confirmed Charles won’t attend the climate summit, claiming the King sought advice from the Prime Minister over his participation. "With mutual friendship and respect there was agreement that the King would not attend," the Palace stated, attempting to dismiss the tense atmosphere previously described by the Times.
But behind the flowery statements, both the king and environmentalists attending the event were not thrilled. A royal source told the newspaper that Charles would be “personally disappointed” to miss the conference and that he was “all lined up to go,” with engagements planned around his Sustainable Markets Initiative that seeks to convince businesses to invest in green initiatives. “This is an error of judgment from the government,” the source said.
Mark Spencer, the newly appointed minister for fisheries and farming, said William should go instead of Charles as the King now has “other priorities.” While he has shown a great deal of interest in the environment in the past, Charles “is up for others to take up that challenge,” Spencer added, suggesting William’s attendance at COP27.
Meanwhile, Alok Sharma, the president of the last year’s climate summit and also a member of cabinet, said Charles should attend COP27. “I would certainly like to see His Majesty attend and that is a message I am getting from countries around the world, said Sharma, claiming Charles had been for decades a champion for climate action.
Under convention in the UK, overseas official visits by members of the royal family are done in accordance with "advice" from the government. The UK hosted the last climate summit, COP26, in the city of Glasgow in Scotland. As well as the late queen, Charles and William both attended the event and gave speeches about climate action.
Charles took a leading role at COP26 and gave the opening speech, calling for a “vast military-style campaign” to tackle climate change and asking world leaders to commit “trillions, not billions, of dollars”. He repeatedly called on world leaders to sign up for the Paris Agreement and laid out the Terra Carta, or Earth Charter, of climate goals.
Lack of climate action
For Truss, this is yet another scandal among a sea of scandals. In the month since she came into power, the British economy has taken a pounding, her media appearances have been disastrous, and the government's lack of environmental protection are heavily criticized by both civil society and members of Truss' party.
The debate on whether Charles should participate at COP27 only pours more gas on the fire. Her newly assembled cabinet has a number of ministers who have expressed doubts about the country's ongoing ambitions, while Truss is seen as not very enthusiastic about climate policies and seems to consider the environment as little more than a footnote to her policy. In fact, there have been several hints that the government wants to roll back on some of the environmental protections previously set.
The government recently authorized fracking to go ahead in the UK, lifting a ban on the oil and gas extraction process that had been introduced in 2019 following several tremors. Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said opposition against fracking is based on “hysteria”, claiming people don’t understand the risk and the UK’s energy needs -- a position which has been thoroughly debunked.
Environmental organizations have repeatedly argued that fracking can contaminate groundwater due to the many chemicals used in the process. It can also increase noise and industrialization in what are now quiet areas, as well as the risk of earthquakes. The UK’s attempt to use fracking would be one of the first ones across Europe, and for a country that (until very recently) prided itself with its environmental policies, it's a concerning sign.