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The crown and climate

The new king of Britain, Charles III, has long been outspoken on conservation and climate change. So I want to use today’s newsletter to fill in some context about Charles, the institution he represents, and his country’s efforts to tackle global warming.

The weight of history

The Industrial Revolution was born in England in the 18th century and so, in a sense, was climate change, as the burning of coal, oil and gas produced vast quantities of greenhouse gases, warming the Earth’s atmosphere.

Britain led that transformation as an imperial power. Key to its dominance was its ability to extract natural resources from its network of colonies around the world.

The past matters. Many of the countries formerly colonized by European powers are today impoverished. They have few resources to deal with the hazards of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spelled that out in a report this year, citing colonialism as having exacerbated the vulnerability of formerly colonized people.

Colonial Britain’s most prized possession, British India, has become the independent republics of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Their people have been pummeled by extreme heat, erratic monsoons, melting glaciers and sea level rise — all telltale signs of climate change.

Also important to remember: Before the Industrial Revolution, Britain prospered as one of the world’s most prominent slave-trading countries.

What Charles has said

Charles has acknowledged the depredations of both. On a visit to Rwanda in June, he expressed “sorrow” for colonialism. On a visit to Barbados last year, when it removed the British monarch as its official head of state, he referred to the “appalling atrocity of slavery.”

The prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, called him “a man ahead of his time,” in a BBC interview over the weekend. “What has stood out for me is his commitment to the environment, to biodiversity, to urban renewal,” Ms. Mottley said.

She is among the most vocal champions of climate action, repeatedly calling on rich countries like Britain and the United States to help repair the damages of climate change to countries like hers.

What Charles has done

As Prince of Wales, Charles spoke out against air pollution, industrial agriculture, deforestation and increasingly called for the world to act on climate change. “The eyes and hopes of the world are upon you to act with all dispatch, and decisively, because time has run out,” he told world leaders at the international climate talks in Glasgow in November.

In 2015, Buckingham Palace confirmed that his investments, along with his charitable foundation, include no fossil fuel holdings.

He has also been called out.

Climate campaigners have noted his use of private jets, which use huge amounts of dirty aviation fuel. His comments on “overpopulation” in countries of the global south rankled many people, given that the people of those countries have tiny climate footprints to begin with.

His heir, Prince William, heads a conservation group that invests in a fund linked to food companies whose activities contribute to deforestation, The Associated Press reported

What Britain faces now

Arguably, for the rest of the world, the most consequential climate action that Britain takes now will not be decided by the new king but the new government of Prime Minister Liz Truss.

She has said she will ramp up investments in North Sea oil and gas, overturned a ban on fracking, and chosen Jacob Rees Mogg, one of the few fierce opponents of climate action in British politics, as her new energy minister. He has said he wants the country to extract “every last cubic inch of gas from the North Sea.”

It’s unclear how this quest will square with a goal enshrined in British law: to cut emissions by 68 percent by 2030, compared to a 1990 baseline. It’s the most ambitious climate target of any industrialized nation.

The British monarch does not engage in politics. So I don’t expect to hear King Charles publicly comment on his country’s day-to-day politics.

Charles’s son William is attending Climate Week in New York, a series of events this month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

It’s worth noting though that the Crown Estate, which manages a £19 billion portfolio, controls the seabed around the British coastline. That is an increasingly lucrative part of the royal fortune as oil majors seek leases to build offshore wind projects.

And speaking of lucrative, the wealth that Charles inherits will be tax free, even though, as my colleagues Jane Bradley and Euan Ward point out, other Britons normally pay around 40 percent inheritance tax.


Pakistan’s next challenge: A food crisis looms in the country after flooding crippled the agricultural sector.

A new cop in town: The federal agency that oversees the largest banks in the United States has just hired its first chief climate risk officer.

Fixing fast fashion: Agreements among fashion houses to adopt more sustainable practices may risk violating antitrust laws.

Congestion pricing: A plan to get cars off Manhattan’s streets could reduce gridlock and bolster public transit. But it could also make air in the Bronx dirtier.

Wildfires in pictures: Weather conditions improved in California, giving firefighters time to control big blazes.

An alternative to grass: Many Americans are finding lawns made of clover are cheaper to keep, more resilient and friendlier to the environment.

Robert Bullard has spent his whole life working for environmental justice, calling for equal environmental protections for all. Now, the White House has pledged $60 billion to the cause. For Dr. Bullard, that’s reason for celebration, but also caution. Too often, he says, federal money and relief funds don’t reach people of color and poor communities.


Thanks for being a subscriber. We’ll be back on Friday.

Manuela Andreoni, Claire O’Neill and Douglas Alteen contributed to Climate Forward. Read past editions of the newsletter here.

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