Green suits and global summits: Royal family throws its weight behind climate action

LONDON – British royals do not usually respond to strong public statements. Tradition and elegance, yes. Fiery statements, not so much.

However, climate change is an issue that has not only sparked emotional public pleadings from the royal family, but has also brought together three generations of the monarchy ahead of the UN climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Prince Charles, Prince William and their wives want to give the event their star power. Queen Elizabeth II had originally planned to attend in person but withdrew after receiving medical advice to rest after a recent hospital stay. Instead, they will provide a recorded video address, Buckingham Palace announced on Tuesday.

The conference was seen as the last chance for world leaders to get a grip on climate change. Otherwise, experts warn that temperatures will continue to rise well above the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) previously set in the Paris Climate Agreement, which will lead to further climate catastrophes from fires and floods to the destruction of species .

President Joe Biden, along with senior members of his cabinet and former President Barack Obama, will be among the 120 world leaders attending the nearly two-week conference. Leaders hope this will lead to ambitious emissions reduction targets and measures to protect vulnerable areas and communities.

Royals rubbing shoulders with world leaders will round off week-long events and interviews in support of actions, from Prince Williams Earthshot Prize, which aims to find technological or political solutions to the effects of climate change to Prince Charles, who declares that he is the frustration of young climate protesters.

Prior to receiving the Earthshot Prize in London this month, William made headlines when he criticized billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk for pursuing space tourism.

“We need some of the best minds and minds in the world who are focused on fixing this planet and not finding the next place to live,” he said in an interview with the BBC.

Prince William said earlier this month that if his own son, Prince George, spoke about saving the planet 30 years from now, it would be an “absolute disaster”. Pool / via Getty Images

But this royal focus on climate protection creates more than just public awareness; it also helps raise the family’s profile, according to Mike Goodman, a professor of geography at the UK’s University of Reading who studies celebrities and climate change.

“You have a long tradition of thinking about the environment. But it’s also an opportunity for him to develop his own brand as they enter a new era and other royals begin to take over the queen, “Goodman said, referring to William, second in line to the throne.

William’s passion for protecting the climate follows his father and grandfather’s dedication to improving the planet. Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, who died in April, has long been involved in animal welfare efforts and has served as President of the World Wildlife Fund. Charles was promoting environmental issues long before the daily news and has often expressed frustration at the lack of attention given to his efforts.

“The problem is taking action on the ground, which I’ve been trying for 40 years,” he told the BBC in an interview that aired last week.

“Celebrities can put the topic in the spotlight, but sometimes there is a danger that it will appear superficial and not necessarily have a lasting impact because people are quick to move on to another celebrity topic.”

PROFESSOR Alison Anderson

In that interview, Charles also made common cause with young climate activists, saying he understood their frustration that enough was not being done.

“People should really notice how desperate so many young people are,” said Charles, adding that he skipped meat or fish two days a week and dairy on Mondays.

In addition to installing solar panels in his residences, the prince rebuilt his Aston Martin car to run on excess English white wine and cheese-processing whey.

Despite their dedication to the subject, the royals have come under fire for their own luxury lifestyle and greenhouse gas production.

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan experienced this right before stepping down from their royal roles in 2020. British tabloids criticized the couple, who previously talked about the need for climate action, in August 2019 for taking a private jet to France.

In the past few weeks, British news outlets have urged the royal family, known as avid hunters, to rewild Parts of their large estates that would include more tree planting and a return to a more natural way of tending the land. Royal Estates, the agency that manages their properties, said in a statement that they have a long history of protection and biodiversity and are always looking for ways to improve.

Protesters march to Buckingham Palace on October 9, calling on the royal family to turn to a conservation effort known as the rewilding of their lands. SOPA / LightRocket via Getty Images

The promotion of their efforts to support the environment extends to the royal websitewhich has a page devoted to the practical actions of the royal household, including the use of hydropower and organic farming.

The Royal Family is part of a long list of celebrities and public figures advocating climate change, and Williams Earthshot Awards ceremony on October 17 included green carpet appearances by actors Emma Watson and David Oyelowo.

However, how far celebrity engagement makes 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 put the spotlight on the subject, but sometimes it risks appearing superficial and not necessarily having a long-term impact,” said Anderson.

It’s not just the royals who benefit from their leadership role in climate change. Your star power will also help raise the UK’s profile on this global issue after leaving the European Union.

Last Tuesday evening, the Queen welcomed former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, along with other international politicians and business leaders, to Windsor Castle for a Global Investment Summit to highlight the UK’s role in green investments and clean technologies.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II attended a reception for international business and investment leaders at Windsor Castle near London on October 19. Pool / via Getty Images

However, this issue is different from many traditionally apolitical concerns that the royal family generally supports.

The younger royals, like William and his wife Kate, are perhaps best known for their work on mental health, addiction, and homelessness. In contrast, according to experts, climate protection requires more government support for its activities in order to make a difference, and the activities of the royals are only a tiny fraction of what is needed for lasting change.

The UK’s Climate Change Committee estimates that investment in low carbon emissions will need to reach around $ 68 billion annually to meet the government’s own net zero targets. For example, the Earthshot Prize, backed by companies like Walmart and Unilever, awards a $ 1.4 million annual grant to five winners to develop and expand their ideas. That is a relatively small amount of money, according to Goodman, compared to the large sums of money it takes to make lasting change.

“He’s doing his best,” Goodman said of William. “He uses his profile and his position of power and money to bring groups of people together to say the right things, and this is where they do something. It’s just not enough. ”

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