Prince Charles praised for climate campaign but critics say it's 'as political as it gets'

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·5-min read

Watch: Prince Charles calls on business and industry to lead climate change fight

Prince Charles has launched another ambitious project, encouraging businesses to commit to putting the planet first over the next 10 years.

His Terra Carta aims to give fundamental rights to nature and is inspired by the Magna Carta, the 13th century document which is seen as the touchstone of human rights and modern democracy.

Many MPs and commentators have praised the prince for his work on environmental issues, something which has been a focus of his royal life for several decades.

But it has not been universally welcomed. The prince, 72, has faced some criticism for weighing in on what has historically been a political issue.

Members of the Royal Family usually stay politically neutral, though that does not mean they completely avoid political issues. The Queen has previously made comments encouraging voting, for example.

Graham Smith, CEO of Republic, which campaigns to remove the monarchy, said: “The environment is highly political, not least about who is responsible for global CO2 emissions and who pays for fixing the problem.

“The government is hosting COP26 later this year, underlining the role of government in tackling climate change. This is about as political as it gets and as heir to the throne Charles needs to keep out of it.”

He also said the campaign meant Charles was “distracting attention from the real culprits”.

KAIKOURA, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 23: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales takes part in a coastal walk in Kaikoura with key figures working to protect the local environment on November 23, 2019 in Kaikoura, New Zealand. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are on an 8-day tour of New Zealand. It is their third joint visit to New Zealand and first in four years. (Photo by Arthur Edwards- Pool/Getty Images)
Prince Charles on a coastal walk in Kaikoura with key figures working to protect the local environment in November 2019 in New Zealand. (Arthur Edwards- Pool/Getty Images)

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Professor Jenny Hocking, from Monash University in Australia, said that while the initiative was good, the Prince of Wales should not be involved.

Prof Hocking, author of The Palace Letters, said: “The essence of a constitutional monarchy is that the monarch and the monarchy are at all times politically neutral and above politics. This is a fundamental feature of constitutional monarchy within a Westminster democratic system.

“How can we expect Charles, as future King and head of state, to act in relation to a government such as the current Australian government, which has wound back action on climate change and ended the emissions trading scheme among other measures?

“The fact that the Terra Carta initiative is an excellent one, cannot detract from the fact that Charles's role in it is not.”

However, Charles has been praised for being ahead of the curve on his environmental campaigning - which he took up in 1970.

And environmentalist Tony Juniper, who works with the prince, told Yahoo UK: “The Prince of Wales has been drawing attention to environmental and sustainability challenges for more than five decades. He is a recognised leader in this debate and finally the world is catching up with his long-standing calls for action.

“He has been a vital convenor of coalitions, has raised awareness and drawn attention to leading examples of what needs to be done. The Terra Carta initiative is a vital and welcome move that I hope will help to create the momentum needed for fixing the climate and Nature emergencies.

“These questions are beyond politics, unless of course you are a climate change denier, or still believe that the destruction of life on Earth is the price we must pay for economic growth. Fortunately, these are now minority views, as they should be considering the weight of scientific evidence telling of the need for urgent action.

“The work of The Prince of Wales in all this very much in keeping with the role of the Royal Family in protecting and promoting the common good. After all, our entire civilisation, economy and society depend on the health of the planet. What could more important than that, or more suitable a cause for someone in his position?”

While public opinion may have caught up with Charles when it comes to the environment, not all of his views are backed by general consensus.

In 2019, Charles became patron of a homeopathy group, following years of personal support for the remedies.

The NHS website currently advises: “Homeopathy isn't widely available on the NHS. In 2017, NHS England recommended that GPs and other prescribers should stop providing it.”

A report in 2019 found that some £50,000 worth of homeopathic treatment was still being funded via the NHS, but it was then blacklisted as a treatment option.

Charles has previously had to defend himself over letters he has written to ministers which some claimed made him a meddling prince.

It was revealed he had written to ministers, and then Prime Minister Tony Blair, about a range of issues including bovine tuberculosis, hospital food and complementary medicine.

The Guardian spent several years battling to have the letters released, but they were largely seen as underwhelming and even boring.

Mark Bolland, his former deputy private secretary, claimed the prince saw himself as a “dissident working against the prevailing political consensus”.

TETBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 19:  (NO PUBLICATION IN UK MEDIA FOR 28 DAYS) Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall meet staff, children and their parents from Ty Hafan Children's Hospice, Cardiff at Highgrove House on December 19, 2005 in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. Ten excited youngsters were invited to the Prince's Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire to help the Royal couple decorate their Christmas tree. Charles and Camilla spent nearly an hour chatting and joking with the children, who were all being cared for at the Ty Hafan children's hospice in Barry, South Wales. (Photo by Pool-Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty Images)
Charles's letters to ministers became known to the public in 2005 - the year he was able to marry Camilla. (Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty Images)

The Terra Carta follows Prince Charles’s launch of the Great Reset in June, in which he urged world leaders to forge a more sustainable future and put nature at the heart after the coronavirus outbreak.

At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, he called for the same level of response to climate change as there had been for the pandemic.

Although he is an influential individual, Charles does not hold any direct political power.

Charles may have suggested he is aware of his lack of real power in his speech about the charter, as he said: “I can only encourage, in particular, those in industry and finance to provide practical leadership to this common project, as only they are able to mobilise the innovation, scale and resources that are required to transform our global economy.”

His son William is also involved in environmental campaigning. He officially launched the Earthshot Prize earlier this year, which will see £50m given away over the next 10 years to projects which are solving some of the issues facing the earth.

Watch: Prince Charles says ‘millions are desperate’ for climate change action