Guardian: Heir to throne intervenes on issue dividing coalition, making outspoken criticism of attempts to tackle global warming.
Prince Charles has attacked corporate lobbyists and climate change sceptics for turning the Earth into a “dying patient”, making his most outspoken criticism yet of the world’s failure to tackle global warming just when the heir to the throne is assuming a growing number of the duties of what is supposed to be an apolitical monarchy.
Hosting a two-day conference for forest scientists at St James’s Palace in London, the Prince of Wales satirised those who stand in the way of climate action, characterising them as “the confirmed sceptics” and “the international association of corporate lobbyists”. Faced with these forces of opposition, “science finds itself up the proverbial double blind gum tree”, he added.
At the debate on environmental issues, hours after the prince attended the Queen’s speech, Charles attacked businesses which failed to care for the environment and compared them with a doctor taking care of a critically ill patient. “If you think about the impact of climate change, [it should be how] a doctor would deal with the problem,” he told an audience of government ministers and diplomats from the UK and abroad, as well as businesspeople and scientists.
“A scientific hypothesis is tested to absolute destruction, but medicine can’t wait. If a doctor sees a child with a fever, he can’t wait for [endless] tests. He has to act on what is there.”
The prince’s remarks were attacked by climate change sceptics and dismissed by several lobbyists. Benny Peiser, of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the thinktank founded by Lord Lawson, which takes a climate-sceptic stance, accused the prince of poisoning the debate on climate change with “apocalyptic language that a government minister would not use”, and accused him of being happy for consumers to pay more in their energy bills for green policies.
Nick Grealy, of No Hot Air, which campaigns for shale gas fracking, said the prince was being paranoid. Ken Cronin, of the onshore oil and gas organisation UKOOG, said: “Energy affordability and energy security are the key parts of this debate – we know that’s what the public thinks. We are not a bunch of climate sceptics, but the energy debate is crucial.”
Andrew Austin, chief executive of iGas, a shale gas company, said: “The Prince of Wales will do what he has always done. Oil and gas are the same as all companies – we are all trying to make our voices heard in Westminster.”
The controversy comes after Nick Clegg said green issues were becoming a key source of contention between the coalition partners. Many Tories have been more vocally opposing renewable energy developments such as wind farms, and voicing concerns about the costs of green policies.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem energy and climate change secretary, referred obliquely to the row within the coalition by staking his party’s claim to green issues. He drew a dividing line between his party and the increasingly vocal section of the Tory rightwing that is attacking policies that require tougher emissions targets and more money for the low-carbon economy. He said: “As a politician – particularly as a politician in a coalition – you quickly realise that compromise is a part of the game. But there are some issues where you have … to stand up and be counted, and you have to do the right thing. I think climate change is firmly in that category.”
Prince Charles’s views were reinforced by Lord Stern, author of the 2006 report on the economics of climate change, who called sceptics and lobbyists “forces of darkness” who would be driven back.
The Prince’s words were leapt on by climate sceptics including Peiser, who said Charles was “out of touch with half the UK population”.
Others supported the prince. Mark Barry, head of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer, tweeted: “Prince Charles’ attack on climate sceptics is significant. As he nears throne many expect him to back off – he isn’t.”
Peiser said: “The US energy price is one third that of Europe, and European businesses are panicking [over measures intended to cut carbon] – Europe is becoming less and less competitive. Prince Charles has to address these concerns – there are real costs to be paid [for cutting emissions].”
Ian Cheshire, chief executive of the retail group Kingfisher, said some businesses were committed to strong action on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and could see the benefits of dealing with the issues.
Supporters of the prince also said privately that he should be praised for taking a strong stance on such a key issue, and was using his “convening power” to draw attention to a crisis that is engulfing the planet and is not receiving sufficient attention from politicians.
The St James’s Palace audience included Owen Paterson, the Tory environment secretary, said by some to be sceptical of the scientific consensus on climate change, and who left climate change out of his speech and focused on other environmental issues such as biodiversity.
Prince Charles is no stranger to controversy, having spoken out on issues from organic farming and alternative medicine to architecture. But his words – warmly welcomed by the conference – were his strongest yet on climate change, an issue he has taken a deep interest in. He founded his working group on forests, whose conference he was addressing, in 2007, and also lends his name to a group of businesses, the Corporate Leaders’ Group, which supports corporate action on cutting greenhouse emissions. He has also written to government ministers on the subject of climate change.
In his speech, Prince Charles praised countries such as Brazil, which has taken a lead on reducing deforestation, and Norway, which is offering billions of dollars to developing nations to protect their forests.
The scientists at the prince’s forum endorsed a call for much greater investment in “big science, which supports the integration and expansion of global tropical forest monitoring networks” and “enhanced research” into the resilience of forests. About 1bn people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihoods, and although the rate of deforestation has slowed in countries such as Brazil, it is accelerating over swaths of south-east Asia and Africa.
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