King Charles III appears to signal an end to climate change activism

Climate Change. Get the latest.
Climate Change. Get the latest.

Outspoken about the "existential" threat posed by climate change when he was Prince of Wales, King Charles III on Friday seemed to signal an effective end to his decades-long public advocacy for lowering greenhouse gas emissions, which are warming global temperatures.

In his first speech as king, Charles pledged to uphold the constitutional principles that kept the sovereign, including his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, from weighing in on what could be seen as political matters.

"My life will of course change as I take up my new responsibilities," Charles said in his videotaped speech. "It will no longer be possible to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I cared so deeply, but I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others."

King Charles III sits at a desk on which rest flowers and a picture of Queen Elizabeth.
King Charles III delivers an address from Buckingham Palace, London, on Friday. (Yui Mok/Pool via Reuters)

For more than 40 years, Charles had championed environmental causes, including the need to transition the global economy off of fossil fuels so as to avert a climate catastrophe. In November, at the start of COP 26, the United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Charles said climate change was an "existential threat to the extent that we have to put ourselves on what might be called a war-like footing" and called on world governments to begin "radically transforming our current fossil fuel based economy to one that is genuinely renewable and sustainable."

Three months later, however, Russia launched its own war on Ukraine, disrupting oil and gas supplies for Europe and the U.K. in the process and throwing the British government's pledge of reaching net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 into doubt.

With Russia cutting off deliveries of natural gas, the continent is bracing for an energy crisis that will send energy prices skyrocketing during the cold winter months and cause governments to resume oil exploration and using coal at a time when climate scientists have warned that mankind needs to immediately transition to renewable sources of energy or face dire consequences such as those witnessed this summer in places like Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, Europe and the American West.

On Thursday, newly appointed Prime Minister Liz Truss announced measures to try to blunt the impact of skyrocketing energy prices over the coming months, including lifting a ban on hydraulic fracking and green-lighting new oil and gas drilling in the North Sea. She has also appointed Jacob Rees-Mogg, who environmental activists call a climate science denier, to oversee the country's energy sector.

In 2020, Charles addressed the World Economic Forum, calling for "a shift in our economic model that places nature and the world's transition to net zero at the heart of how we operate."

Needless to say, a continued reliance on oil was not exactly what Charles had in mind. The king, being a symbolic figure who is not elected, has no control over the government's policies, however.

Truss also named Ranil Jayawardena, who has spoken out against the installation of solar farms on agricultural land, as environment secretary.

Over the years, Charles has been a champion of solar power, winning approval in 2021 to install panels atop London's Clarence House, his former residence, and praising India's expansion of solar capacity.

Charles had delivered countless speeches on addressing climate change, written books on the topic and had made the issue central to his role as Prince of Wales. That decision also earned him ample criticism from those who saw his activism as overstepping the bounds of the monarchy.

In his Friday speech, the new king did not mention the words "climate change," and that, in and of itself, spoke volumes.