Prince Charles may raise climate change during Trumps visit to Britain
30 January 2017 | Mitigation
Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain this year was never likely to fit the mould of previous trips undertaken by his predecessors, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. The US president’s rumoured wish to play nine holes on the Queen’s private golf course at Balmoral and the question of how he might explain his 2012 tweet defending the sale of topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge made sure of that.
But the tour is now looking even more likely to generate controversy as Prince Charles emerged as a possible challenger to the president’s views on climate change and faith issues.
The Guardian understands from royal sources that the prince will not lecture Trump in relation to their starkly divergent views of what needs to be done to tackle global warming but has not ruled out addressing the topic. This poses a challenge not just for the president, who has threatened to “cancel” the United Nations climate change deal signed in Paris in 2015 and who has described climate change as “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”. It is also a conundrum for the British government scrambling to work out how to address Trump’s radical programme and how to make use of a sometimes controversial advocate for climate action.
Charles is being urged by some in Whitehall to use his decades-long experience in environmentalism to challenge Trump's pledge to abandon the deal, as part of “harmonised” efforts with the UK government to keep the carbon-cutting treaty on track.
But other UK officials are reported to be concerned that the likely meeting between the men has become a “risk factor” for the visit. Another potentially controversial issue that could arise is religion Prince Charles’s history of trying to promote better interfaith relations contrast with Trump's actions to block travellers from Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
An anonymous source, described as being close to Trump, said this weekend that the president would not put up with being lectured by the prince, according to the Sunday Times. The source warned against the two men meeting at all.
That appears unlikely. Under the normal choreography of a state visit, Charles is likely to have several opportunities to spend time with Trump. Although details of the visit have yet to be finalised, the Prince of Wales would typically welcome Trump where he is staying, possibly the US ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park, central London. They would then travel together to Horse Guards Parade from where there is normally a formal procession down the Mall to Buckingham Palace for the leader to be greeted by the Queen. That would be followed by a lunch, attended again by Charles.
A state dinner provides another opportunity for interaction and Charles also invites most leaders to afternoon tea at Clarence House. Whether this will happen with Trump is yet to be decided, and is said to depend on how much time is available. Barack Obama did not take tea on his last state visit, but China’s president, Xi Jinping, did.
In parts of Whitehall Charles is now considered to be “an extremely good asset” in helping to maintain the integrity of the UN climate change treaty. He has been “gently primed” to assist diplomatic efforts on the issue, a senior Whitehall source said and there is “a sympathetic hearing” between Clarence House and the government on climate change, with Charles’s views considered “absolutely in line with government policy”.
“It has taken a lot of work by some of us to get him into that place, but what he is doing now is extremely helpful to us,” the source said.
Last week, while Trump issued executive orders to revive oil pipeline projects and told carmakers that environmental regulation was “out of control”, Charles stepped up his own warnings on the environment. In a foreword to a Ladybird book on climate change published on Thursday and co-written by the prince, he described climate change as “the wolf at the door” and said action “must be urgently scaled up and scaled up now”.
One royal aide said Charles “would find a meeting [with Trump] on this subject [climate change] extremely useful” but also made clear that while the agenda might or might not include climate change, the mode of delivery would not be confrontational or hectoring.
“If anything, he is a helpful and honest broker on so many issues,” said one source. The source explained that Charles is usually in listening mode for the first 30 minutes of meetings with heads of state and only towards the end would consider offering thoughts about how problems that had been raised might be addressed.
Another source close to the prince said it would be difficult for him to be very direct with Trump. “He has to retain political neutrality, which is why he is always walking something of a tightrope on this subject,” the source said.
However, the same source added: “It is fair to say he considers the world to be in great peril because of climate change, system degradation and resource depletion and he feels it is necessary for him to use his position to say something about that.”
Some in Whitehall hope that far from causing Trump to “erupt”, as one anonymous US source suggested at the weekend, the US president may in fact be more engaged by Charles expressing views about the need for urgent action on climate change than a politician, in part because of Trump’s admiration of wealth and British royalty.
Trump reportedly told Theresa May in November that his Scottish mother, Mary MacLeod, was “a big fan of the Queen”.
“Trump is the sort of person who loves the panoply surrounding wealth and royalty,” said a senior government source. “He loves reflecting the glory of the royal family. He is pressing for a state visit so he can go and have a meal in Buckingham Palace and he wants to play golf on the Queen’s golf course.”
Environmental campaigners have also backed Charles’s ability to influence the new US president, in part by rallying other countries including Brazil, China and India to stand by the deal, thereby putting indirect pressure on Trump.
“He has an international outreach and he is respected in the US,” said Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of businesses, politicians and campaign groups pushing for a sustainable economy. “He has the benefit of being a step removed from everyday politics and I think that is important. It allows him to have more authority and to be a more engaging figure.”
Charles told the 2015 UN climate change conference in Paris: “The moment has arrived to take those long-awaited steps towards rescuing our planet and our fellow man from impending catastrophe.” He has also previously acknowledged the importance of US policy on climate change. In a 2015 speech he told an audience in Washington DC: “America’s impact is profound and it is my, and many others’, fervent hope that you will continue to inspire others both at home and on the global stage.”
In recent years, Charles has focused his campaigning and convening efforts on the fight against climate change. He runs his own international sustainability unit from Clarence House, which describes itself as a trusted forum for “key actors from governments, the private sector and civil society”.
Source: The Guardian