U.K. royals bring glamour to COP26, but for them climate is more than passing fad
LONDON — British royals usually do not go in for emphatic public pronouncements. Tradition and elegance, yes. Fiery statements, not so much.
Yet climate change is an issue that has not only prompted emotional public pleas from the royal family, but has united three generations of the monarchy ahead of the U.N.’s climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland.
Prince Charles, Prince William and their wives plan to lend their star power to the event. Queen Elizabeth II had originally planned to attend in person, but pulled out after she received medical advice to rest following a recent hospital stay. Instead, she will deliver a recorded video address, Buckingham Palace said Tuesday.
The conference has been billed as a last chance for world leaders to get climate change under control. Otherwise, experts warn that temperatures will continue to rise far above the 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) target previously set out in the Paris climate agreement, resulting in further climate catastrophes, from fires and floods to the destruction of species.
President Joe Biden, together 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 are hoping it will result in ambitious emissions reduction targets as well as moves to protect vulnerable areas and communities.
Royals rubbing shoulders with world leaders will cap weeks of events and interviews in support of action, from Prince William’s Earthshot Prize, which aims to find technological or policy solutions to the effects of climate change, to Prince Charles' declaring that he understands the frustration of young climate protesters.
Before the Earthshot Prize ceremony in London this month, William made headlines when he appeared to criticize billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk for pursing space tourism.
“We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live,” he said in an interview with the BBC.
But this royal focus on climate action does more than just raise public awareness; it also helps raise the family's own profile, according to Mike Goodman, professor of geography at the U.K.'s University of Reading, who studies celebrity and climate change.
“They’ve had a long history of thinking of the environment. But it’s also an opportunity for him to develop his own brand as they move into a new era and other royals start to take over from the queen,” Goodman said, referring to William, the second in line to the throne.
William’s passion for climate action comes on the heels of his father's and grandfather’s involvementwith bettering the planet. Prince Philip, the queen's husband, who died in April, was long associated with animal conservation efforts and served as the president of the World Wildlife Fund. Charles has been promoting environmental issues long before it was daily news, and has often expressed frustrationat the lack of attention his efforts have received.
“The problem is to get action on the ground, which is what I’ve been trying to do for the last 40 years,” he told the BBC in an interview that aired last week.
“Celebrities can put a spotlight on the issue, but sometimes the danger is that it appears superficial and it may not necessarily have a long-lasting impact because people move on to another celebrity issue quickly.”
PROFESSOR ALISON ANDERSON
In that interview, Charles also made common cause with young climate change activists, saying he understands their frustration that not enough is being done.
“People should really notice how despairing so many young people are,” said Charles, who added that he refrains from eating meat or fish two days a week, and dairy products on Mondays.
In addition to adding solar panels to his residences, the prince has also converted his Aston Martin car to run on surplus English white wine and whey from cheese processing.
Despite their dedication to the issue, the royals have come under criticism for their own luxury lifestyle and production of greenhouse gases.