King Charles III: climate change and a slimmed down monarchy - what to expect

Outspoken monarch has promised not to 'meddle' when he takes up the mantle

King Charles's sense of personal bereavement is going to be mixed with a great sense of responsibility as he takes on his new role as head of state, royal watchers say. Reuters
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With a reputation for being a conservation advocate, the world will be watching with bated breath at what the new king of England will be bringing to the role.

King Charles III has been an outspoken member of the royal family since his youth, and has previously drawn criticism over his 'black spider' memos, named after his distinctive handwriting, amid accusations he has attempted to meddle in British political issues over the decades.

As he ascends to the throne, onlookers will be wondering if he will step back from encroaching on national issues and take a more neutral stance like his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

Will King Charles III interfere in British politics?

In a documentary to mark his 70th birthday in 2018, the monarch expressed his desire to "operate differently" when he took up the mantle.

When asked if he would continue to "meddle", he replied: “No. I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign. So, of course I understand entirely how that should operate.

“You know, I’ve tried to make sure whatever I’ve done has been non-party political, and I think it’s vital to remember there’s only room for one sovereign at a time, not two. So, you can’t be the same as the sovereign if you’re the Prince of Wales or the heir.”

Over the years, the king has publicly expressed views on farming, genetic modification, global warming, social deprivation, planning and architecture.

"He's known from his earliest days that his style will have to change. The public won't want a campaigning monarch," constitutional expert Professor Vernon Bogdanor told the BBC.

Climate change and conservation expected to be at the forefront of his tenure

Known as an avid eco-warrior, the 73-year-old was a prominent backer of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord and last year spoke passionately about climate change at Cop26.

Before her death, the queen praised his conservation work.

“Over his 70 years, Philip and I have seen Charles become a champion of conservation and the arts, a great charitable leader — a dedicated and respected heir to the throne to stand comparison with any in history — and a wonderful father," she said on his birthday.

Last year at Cop26, the monarch told global leaders that climate change and biodiversity posed a great "existential threat" and said the world needed to put itself on a "war-like footing".

"With a growing global population creating ever increasing demand on the planet’s finite resources, we have to reduce emissions urgently and take action to tackle the carbon already in the atmosphere, including from coal fired power stations," he said.

"Restoring natural capital, accelerating nature based solutions, and leveraging the circular bio economy will be vital to our efforts. As we tackle this crisis, our efforts cannot be a series of independent initiatives running in parallel. The scale and scope of the threat we face call for a global systems level solution based on radically transforming our current fossil fuel based economy to one that is genuinely renewable and sustainable.

"My plea is for countries to come together to create the environment that enables every sector of industry to take the action required. We know this will take trillions, not billions of dollars."

It is expected that his pioneering work in the field of climate change will continue to shape his monarchy.

At the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, King Charles gave a powerful speech, asking: “Do we want to go down in history as the people who did nothing to bring the world back from the brink in time to restore the balance when we could have done? I don’t want to.”

His sons have previously spoken about his work with endangered red squirrels in Scotland.

“His passion for the environment and the natural world is something I want to repeat in the way I raise George, Charlotte and Louis," Prince William said.

“My father’s focus on the environment is something I’ve looked up to all my life.”

While delivering a Richard Dimbleby lecture in 2009, King Charles described the environmental "crisis" facing the world.

“We are standing at a moment of substantial transition where we face the dual challenges of a world view and an economic system that seem to have enormous shortcomings, together with an environmental crisis – including that of climate change – which threatens to engulf us all," he said.

He has also spoken of his love of plants.

“I happily talk to the plants and the trees, and listen to them. I think it’s absolutely crucial," he told gardener and presenter Alan Titchmarsh during a documentary screened in 2010.

Can the public expect to see a slimmed-down monarchy?

King Charles has previously expressed his desire to have a slimmed-down monarchy with only a core inner circle of royals instead of many extended family members.

Before the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Court Circular listed activities of 14 members of the royal family.

But the queen’s Diamond Jubilee balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace maybe a sign of things to come when only six people appeared.

These had included the queen, King Charles, then Prince of Wales, his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and his wife, Katherine, and Prince Harry.

It is expected the slimmed down future royal family may be confined to the sovereign, his consort, children and grandchildren.

A critic of art and architecture

Prof Bogdanor anticipates the king could give greater royal patronage of the arts, music and culture.

For many years he has been an outspoken critic on London buildings he believes are an eyesore.

In 1984, during a speech to the Royal Institute of British Architects, he described the proposed National Gallery extension as "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend”.

Following his comment, the plan was changed. On London's National Theatre building in 1988 he said it's “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting."

Dealing with the grief of losing his mother

As the king takes up his new role, the task of taking on such a prominent position in the midst of dealing with his grief will be hard, the Bishop of Wakefield, Rev Simon Cowling, told The National.

"I think he will feel two things when he becomes king, as a son he has lost his mother and I think that sense of personal bereavement is going to be mixed with a great sense of responsibility as he takes on his new role as head of state.

"We must remember in the days and weeks ahead that not only is he our king, he is also a grieving son.

"I think the queen felt the loss of her own father very keenly, I visited the small Victorian church at Windsor and inside she kept her father's prayer book and always used it. I expect Charles will do the same and gain inspiration from his mother.

"I believe Charles will be great advocate internationally and we will see him doing great things in the years ahead."

Updated: September 16, 2022, 9:37 AM