By Arab News
By Faisal J. Abbas *
With Britain having acquired a new head of state and a new head of government in a matter of days last month, some constitutional teething troubles between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street were perhaps inevitable. It is a source of regret, however, that the first issue to apparently divide the UK’s two seats of power should be climate change.
It has been widely reported in the British press that Prime Minister Liz Truss ordered King Charles not to attend the forthcoming COP27 climate change conference at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt in November.
Naturally, Truss’s office points out that the prime minister is in no position to “order” the king to do anything, and the official line from the palace is that the monarch accepted Truss’s “advice” that he should not attend.
Perhaps what triggered this early confrontation was Truss subconsciously harking back to her fiery university years as an anti-monarchist; or, as some analysts see it, it may be her eagerness to draw a clear line — early on in the relationship — that she will be calling the shots in her country.
Either way, the fact remains that King Charles will be denied participation in an event close to his heart, on an issue close to his heart, in a region close to his heart — and that is a mistake.
Climate change is a real and pressing threat. Only this summer the UK endured three devastating heatwaves in June, July and August: Temperatures hit a record 40.3C, there was a 200 percent increase in the number of wildfires, the Meteorological Office declared a national emergency, and three people died from drowning. All of this was attributable to climate change.
There is a convention that British monarchs do not get involved in politics, but climate change is an issue that transcends politics. Only last year, as Prince of Wales, Charles addressed the COP26 opening ceremony in Glasgow, and his late mother Queen Elizabeth also gave a speech at the event. Last November, Charles had the British government’s blessing for a trip to Egypt, where he discussed COP27 with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. If it was acceptable then, why not now?
Throughout his life, King Charles has been a genuine, passionate advocate for environmental causes and action to combat the climate emergency. Not only that, but he is also a figure around whom many countries in the world can unite: I can at least speak for Arab countries, where he enjoys deep personal bonds with Gulf royal families, and is widely respected for his understanding of Islam and Arab culture.
Last month’s state funeral of Queen Elizabeth, watched by billions worldwide, was a classic illustration of how the British royal family is a key element in the country’s soft power, image, and culture. Meanwhile, with efforts such as the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative, there is clearly momentum, resources and focus for change in a region that had not paid much attention to the issue before.
The UK is still finding its feet again after a series of blows that began with the repercussions of Brexit, then the COVID pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and now a cost-of-living crisis. Choosing not to empower King Charles in a role that suits him so well, and could have been an additional channel to lobby and win favor with attending Arab and international leaders, shows both a lack of sophistication and a lack of confidence.
Not very British, is it?
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News.