LONDON – British royals usually don’t go out to make emphatic public statements. Tradition and elegance yes. fiery remarks, not so much.
However, climate change is an issue that not only spurred passionate public appeals from the royal family, but united three generations of the monarchy ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland.
Prince Charles, Prince William and their wives are planning to bring their star power to the event. Queen Elizabeth II had originally planned to attend in person, but withdrew after receiving medical advice to rest after a recent hospital stay. On Tuesday, Buckingham Palace said it would provide a registered video address instead.
He described the conference as the last chance for world leaders to control climate change. Otherwise, experts warn that temperatures will continue to rise above the 1.5°C (2.7°F) target previously set in the Paris Climate Agreement, leading to more climate catastrophes, from fires and floods to species destruction.
President Joe Biden, along with senior members of his cabinet and former President Barack Obama, will be among 120 world leaders to attend the nearly two-week conference. Leaders hope this will lead to ambitious emissions reduction targets as well as steps to protect regions and communities at risk.
Royals rubbing shoulders with world leaders will wrap up weeks of events and interviews in support of action, from the Prince William Earthshot Award, which aims to find technological or political solutions to the impacts of climate change, to Prince Charles declaring he understands the frustration of young climate protesters.
Ahead of the Earthshot Awards ceremony in London this month, William made headlines when he appeared to criticize billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk for pursuing space tourism.
“We need some of the greatest brains and fixed minds in trying to fix this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live,” he said in a BBC interview.
But this royal focus on climate action does more than raise public awareness; It also helps raise the family’s image, according to Mike Goodman, a professor of geography at the University of Reading in the UK, who studies celebrities and climate change.
“They have a long history of thinking about the environment. But it is also an opportunity for him to develop his own brand as they transition into a new era and other royals start taking over the Queen.”
William’s passion for climate action comes on the heels of his father and grandfather’s involvement in improving the planet. Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, who died in April, has long been associated with animal conservation efforts and served as head of the World Wildlife Fund. Charles had been promoting environmental issues long before they were daily news, and he often expressed frustration with the lack of attention his efforts had received.
“The problem is doing work on the ground, which is what I’ve been trying to do for the past 40 years,” he told the BBC in an interview broadcast last week.
“Celebrities can highlight the issue, but sometimes the danger is that it appears superficial and may not necessarily have a long-term impact because people move on to the issue of other celebrities quickly.”
Mrs. Allison Anderson
In that interview, Charles also shared a common cause with young climate change activists, saying he understood their frustration with not doing enough.
“People should really notice how desperate a lot of young people are,” Charles said, adding that he abstains from meat or fish two days a week, and dairy on Mondays.
In addition to adding solar panels to his residences, the prince also converted his Aston Martin to run on a surplus of English white wine and whey from processing cheese.
Despite their dedication to the cause, members of the royal family have been criticized for their luxurious lifestyle and production of greenhouse gases.
Prince Harry and his wife Meghan witnessed this firsthand before stepping back from their royal roles in 2020. British newspapers in August 2019 criticized the couple, who had previously spoken of the need for climate action, for boarding a private jet to France.
In the past weeks, the royal family, known for being keen hunters, has faced calls from UK news outlets “rewinding“ Portions of their large estate, which would include more tree planting and a return to a more natural way of caring for the land. Royal Estates, the body that manages its properties, said in a statement that it has a long history of conservation and biodiversity and has always been looking for ways to improve it.
The announcement of their efforts to support the environment extends to royal site, which contains a page dedicated to the practicalities of the royal family, including the use of hydropower and organic farming.
The royals are part of a long list of celebrities and public figures to throw their weight behind climate action, and the William Earthshot Award ceremony on October 17 included actors Emma Watson and David Oyelowo appearing on the green carpet.
However, how much celebrity involvement in the issue will make a difference is up for debate, according to Alison Anderson, a professor of sociology at the University of Plymouth, who studies climate change and celebrity activism.
“Celebrities can shed light on this issue, but the danger sometimes is that it looks superficial and may not necessarily have a long-term impact,” Anderson said.
It’s not just members of the royal family who benefit from their leadership on climate change. Their star power also helps bolster the UK’s standing on this global issue after its exit from the European Union.
Last Tuesday evening, the Queen welcomed former Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates, along with other international political and business leaders at Windsor Castle as part of a global investment summit aimed at highlighting the UK’s role in green investment and clean technologies.
However, this problem differs from the many non-political causes that the royal family generally supports.
Younger members of the royal family, such as William and his wife Kate, are perhaps best known for their work on mental health, addiction, and homelessness. In contrast, climate action requires more government support for their activities to make a difference, according to experts, and the activities of the royal family are only a small part of what is needed for lasting change.
The UK Climate Change Committee estimates that low-carbon investment needs to reach about $68 billion per year to achieve the government’s net zero targets. The Earthshot Prize, for example, backed by companies like Walmart and Unilever, awards a $1.4 million grant to five winners annually to develop and scale their ideas. That’s a relatively small amount of money compared to the large sums needed to make lasting change, according to Goodman.
Goodman said of William, “He does his best. He uses his profile and his position in power and money to bring groups of people together to say the right things, and there they are doing something. It’s not enough.”