In a realm where opulence meets environmental consciousness, European royals are wielding their influence to promote greener choices. As Prince Frederik ascends to the Danish throne, he inherits a mantle that shifts from scepticism about human-induced climate change to a fervent call for decisive climate action.
“I think it’s important for me to have a message for other people,” Prince Frederik declared in 2010, following an eye-opening expedition to the melting Arctic alongside heirs to the Norwegian and Swedish thrones. His mission: to convince the broader populace that changes are afoot and that we must embrace them.
Denmark is not alone in this endeavour. Other European monarchies are also using their esteemed positions to raise awareness about the perils of environmental degradation. Norway’s King Harald expressed solidarity with the concerns and impatience of young people regarding nature conservation in his New Year address. Sweden’s Crown Princess Victoria attended a climate science conference in 2022 and contributed to a book on exploring Sweden on foot in 2020. Monaco’s Prince Albert, a dedicated yacht enthusiast, has been actively championing ocean protection for several years. In November, Spain’s Queen Letizia delved into the concept of “degrowth” as a strategy to meet emission targets during a climate seminar.
Yet, among Europe’s royals, none has been as vocal an environmental advocate as Britain’s King Charles. For over half a century, he has been sounding the alarm about pollution and its cleanup costs, while also taking aim at corporate lobbyists and climate sceptics. In 2013, he warned, “The risk of delay is so enormous that we can’t wait until we are absolutely sure the patient is dying.”
Critics have occasionally accused these royals of hypocrisy, given their opulent lifestyles and vast inherited wealth. Some even possess extensive tracts of land, often acquired through historical conquests, which could be repurposed for the greater good in ways that reduce the strain on the environment.
Nonetheless, the support for monarchs in their climate endeavours remains widespread. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a climate physicist at Université catholique de Louvain, attests to the positive perception of the royals’ commitment to environmental causes within certain boundaries.
However, the question of coherence arises, as their lavish lifestyles remain carbon-intensive. Further alignment between their actions and speeches would undoubtedly enhance their credibility in this regard.
Some royals have broken away from the extravagant norm of private jet travel and superyacht holidays. Researchers argue that these role models can inspire a broader audience to adopt less polluting lifestyles.
“Elites are role models and have a big influence in setting cultural norms and aspirations,” notes Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability scientist at Lund University. The image of a crown princess hiking in jeans to a destination accessible by public transport sends a potent message that high living can coexist with a low carbon footprint.
In addition, scientists suggest that royals may be well-positioned to reach older and more patriotic audiences who may be sceptical of scientists and activists. A king or queen can be a persuasive messenger when it comes to the perils of burning fossil fuels and endangering nature.
For instance, Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja, known for their outdoor pursuits, may appeal to an audience that Greta Thunberg or green parties may not easily reach. However, the constraints of maintaining a politically neutral stance limit their ability to delve deeply into pressing environmental questions.
In Nordic countries where widespread support for climate action prevails, the impact of generic environmental messages may have reached its zenith. As Joachim Peter Tilsted, a researcher at Lund University, notes, royals tend to steer clear of contentious issues and political debates, staying within the bounds of consensus politics. Consequently, their ability to push for more radical climate actions may be restricted by the prevailing political landscape.
In sum, Europe’s royals, despite their opulent trappings, are playing a pivotal role in advocating for climate awareness and action. Their efforts serve as a reminder that even in the highest echelons of society, the call for environmental responsibility resonates, albeit with some room for improvement in terms of aligning their actions with their rhetoric.
Source: Niranjan, A. (2024). ‘The high life can be low carbon’: the European royals taking on the climate crisis. The Guardian. [online] 12 Jan. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2024/jan/12/high-life-can-be-low-carbon-european-royals-taking-on-climate-crisis [Accessed 12 Jan. 2024].