King Charles III - the Climate King?
During his tenure as the Prince of Wales, King Charles III was known for offering his opinions on everything from farming to architecture, and who can forget the infamous ‘black spider’ memos during former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s time in office. One subject about which the new King has always been particularly vocal is climate change, and that, I hope, will endure. Last year at COP26, the monarch told global leaders that climate change and ever decreasing biodiversity posed a great "existential threat" and said the world needed to put itself on a "war-like footing".
The scale of the threat we face called for a global solution he said, ‘based on radically transforming our current fossil fuel-based economy to one that is genuinely renewable and sustainable’. I wonder, therefore, whether King Charles finds himself torn between his new role as monarch, with its “never complain never explain” modus operandi, or if he will be reaching for his (hopefully fully functioning) pen to make his feelings known as our new Prime Minister commits to fresh licenses for North Sea oil and gas extraction, ends the ban on fracking, and publicly decries solar as harmful to UK agriculture.
He will be aware, I’m sure that studies have shown time and time again that despite the government’s best efforts the population is in favour of solar farms - even those proposed in ‘their own backyard’.
Some 77% of the 6,114 people polled by Survation for industry body RenewableUK supported the use of wind and solar farms to tackle the cost of soaring energy bills. A whopping 73% of Tory members are pro-solar. So why then are solar farms being refused planning in Great Britain at the highest rate for five years? Recent analysis published by the Guardian found that projects which could have shaved £100 million off annual electricity bills were turned down in the past 18 months. A total of 23 solar farms were denied planning in England, Scotland, and Wales in the year and a half to July 2022 with the southwest and eastern England racking up the highest number of refusals. Those schemes had the potential to generate enough renewable energy to power 147,000 homes every year.
I am perplexed, not only by Liz Truss’s determination to ignore the opportunity this renewable energy source presents, but by her attempts to pit solar developers against the farming community and possibly damage public perception irrevocably. To be clear, solar farms will need at most 0.5% of UK farmland by 2050 - predominantly poor quality, low value land - but the impacts of uncontrolled climate change promise to harm UK farming and landscapes more severely than they ever could.
While King Charles III will undoubtably be feeling the weight of his responsibility to remain politically neutral, I had been encouraged by the fact that he was reportedly still planning to attend COP27 in Egypt later this year. It was incredibly disappointing to read that this is no longer the case. As a long-time environmentalist, promoting sustainability before it became trendy, I wonder how much of a challenge it will be to step back from his climate activism entirely and frankly I wonder why he would need to adopt a regal silence on the topic. I certainly hope he continues to wield his power behind the scenes. After all, he inherits the mantle of sovereign in a very different era from that of his mother. Long may his advocacy of renewables continue, securing himself a place in history as Great Britain’s Climate King.
Julian Barlow – Chair of Wiltshire Wildlife Community Energy