The fascinating backstory of King Charles III and his (sometimes controversial) environmental campaigns

Most people know that by now King Charles III really cares about the environment. It has been repeated many times in the months since Queen Elizabeth II’s death, especially by those who admire him. What is perhaps less known to the general public is how respected he really is among environmental advocates.

This year, Charles reportedly canceled plans to attend COP27 in Egypt last week due to advice from Liz TruusThe short-lived government, which was confirmed by the new prime minister, did host a Buckingham Palace reception for more than 200 politicians and activists on their way to Egypt. For Charles, trips to the United Nations climate conferences are more than just keeping up appearances – he’s actually participating. At the 2015 COP21 in Paris, where a historic treaty was to be negotiated, Charles used his opening speech to remind those in attendance to reflect on the world they left behind for their grandchildren. On his last trip to COP26 in Glasgow, Charles gave four separate speeches and introduced a video message from his mother.

An obvious reason for his passion for the environment is that he was simply in the right place at the right time. Historians have cited 1970 as the year environmental threats broke through to the mainstream, and when he completed his college degree in anthropology and archeology at the age of 22 and started planning his career, the concern came naturally. For a handful of baby boomers, caring for the environment became a countercultural lifestyle, and while Charles was never a committed member of the Back-to-the-Land movement, some of his beliefs and practices—from his organic farm in Highgrove to his concerns about GMOs – were not far off.

Still, Charles remained extraordinarily committed to environmental issues even after the ’70s came to a close, perhaps because it appealed to something deeper within him. Through speeches on the environment over five decades, he has described his interest in the environment in elementary terms, speaking of beauty, consciousness, synthesis and imagination. He’s also been remarkably astute when it comes to absorbing new information and following the buzzwords of the movement. But bringing its history into the movement also illustrates some of the pitfalls that have made action on climate much more difficult.

The future king made his first forays into environmental issues long before global warming was even on the agenda. On a dull day in February 1970, Charles followed his father, Prince Philip, into a room in the Strasbourg Town Hall for a conference on conservation. In a dark suit, under the age of 22, Charles sat in the audience as his father gave a speech about resource depletion, endangered wildlife and the need to set aside more land for conservation. These were the issues Philip devoted most of his life to, and were fairly common concerns for European royalty at the time. Charles and Philip were joined by four other European princes at the conference, which brought together government representatives and activists to launch the European Year of Nature Conservation.

By 1970, Charles had been involved in planning the European Conservation Year for almost two years. Many of Charles’ decisions about education and employment were planned by Queen Elizabeth II and her advisers, and his first forays into the world of environmentalism were motivated by their desire for him to forge closer links in Wales. In 1968, Charles began to prepare for his responsibilities as heir to the throne by spending more time in the country. First he chaired a committee charged with planning the country’s participation in the upcoming European Year of Nature Conservation, the first time he served as head of an assembly. He returned the following year to take a summer course in the language of Welsh before his inauguration at Caernarfon Castle in July 1969.

Charles’ trip to France in 1970 was part of a larger plan to launch him into his career in public life. His university studies were due to end that spring, so for the year following his inauguration he committed to a hectic travel schedule to serve as a royal apprentice before commencing his military training at the Royal Navy College, Dartmouth. After leaving the conference in Strasbourg, Charles traveled to Paris to attend the state funeral of French leader Charles de Gaulle.

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