Will Charles as King mean an end to his climate change activism?

He’s well-known for his views on the environmental threat of climate change, but in Charles’s first address as King, Australia’s new head of state appeared to give some insight into how he will proceed on the issue.
“It will 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,” he said.
“But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.”

So, what does his new role mean for the causes he has historically supported, can he continue his advocacy, and how could this influence climate action?

What is Charles’s history with sustainability and the environment?

Since the 1970s, Charles has supported environmental causes through his charitable organisations, launched sustainability initiatives, and served as Patron for numerous environmental organisations.

According to his official website, around half of his office and domestic energy use comes from renewable sources such as woodchip boilers, air-source heat pumps, solar panels and “green” electricity.

Over the years, he has addressed numerous climate conferences around the world, including last year in November when he urged world leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Conference for a “war-like footing”.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us just how devastating a global cross-border threat can be; climate change and biodiversity loss are no different,” he said.
“In fact, they pose an even greater existential threat, to the extent that we have to put ourselves on what might be called a war-like footing.

“Time has quite literally run out.”

Can he continue activism as King?

Traditionally, the reigning monarch is expected to remain politically neutral, and refrain from speaking about any topic which could be considered controversial.
Academics say while Charles may become less vocal about these causes, his historical support will likely continue to be influential.
“An ideal framework would allow him to continue to sort of support those causes without being seen to overstep the mark as an impartial sovereign, and I think that already, we are seeing more prominence given to environmental issues,” Dr Cindy McCreery, senior lecturer in history at the University of Sydney, told SBS News.

“Even the fact that we’re having these conversations is because people are aware of Charles’s track record in that area … I think just by becoming monarch, he has raised the status of that topic in public debate.”

The King could argue climate change and the survival of the planet should not be political, according to Liz Hanna, Honorary Senior Fellow at the Fenner School of Environment and Society and Climate Change Institute and associate professor at the Australian National University.

“In that context, what we’re looking forward to is him to still use his influence within the constraints that he can do to continue to push the fact that if we want to survive, then we need to tread softly on this planet,” she said.

Climate change is ‘beyond politics’

United States climate envoy and former secretary of state John Kerry said the issue of climate change was “beyond politics”.

“I think His Majesty can do that without crossing any lines,” Mr Kerry told Channel 4.
“Climate is a global existential challenge for the planet, and His Majesty has understood that and been engaged in that for years and years.
“I personally hope he is able to continue to be a voice on that, but that’s up to him and The Palace.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had a similar view, saying t would be appropriate for Charles to continue his climate advocacy.

“I think dealing with the challenge of climate change shouldn’t be seen as a political issue, it should be seen as an issue that is about humanity and about our very quality of life and survival as a world,” he said.

“This is a big threat … I think engagement in issues is very different from engagement in party political matters. That would be entirely inappropriate.”
Opposition leader Peter Dutton believes the King would endorse a “sensible approach”, but would likely not express his personal views on a day-to-day basis.

“He now moves into a different phase of his life and as he pointed out, he’s been a very strong supporter of charities and different causes for most of his adult life, but he puts that to one side now, because he takes up the important role as the head of the Commonwealth,” Mr Dutton said.

“I think the continuity is an important element of his reign.
“I think the point he made in his speech yesterday was that he now, as the Queen did, doesn’t express those views on a day-to-day basis.”
Professor Hanna believes even if the King does not continue to directly champion environmental causes, his history would continue to lend weight to the issue.
“He’s had a very long period of time to establish his credentials in this area, and let his actions and his thoughts be known … so even if he doesn’t do a great deal more, everybody will realise that’s where his heart lies, so it will be effective,” she said.

“I think his impact will probably still be very, very powerful, even within the constraints that he will have to have in terms of not publicly arguing against any government decision.”

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