Wednesday, November 29

Here’s a plan for green King Charles: sell the family silver and use the cash to save the planet | John Vidal

yeso King Charles won’t be going to COP 23, by order of Liz Truss -following-liz-trusss-advice; an inauspicious start for a monarch with pretensions to remain an influencer and be known as the first “green” king.

But he should take heart: Truss may not be long for No10, and Charles may look at recent events and conclude that no-one listens to her anyway. If so, there are plenty of opportunities now for him to turn the archaic House of Windsor into an institution fit for an age of climate breakdown, poverty and deep inequalities.

Ascent to the throne means no more speeches about emissions or off-the-cuff remarks about nature destruction. But his new position of him actually makes it easier for him to lobby prime ministers, even Truss while she lasts, at confidential weekly meetings and to lead public opinion by personal example – something that even a government hostile to his convictions about the environment may not be able to control.

From now on, what the King says is less important than what he is seen to do. He now runs a multibillion-pound private corporation and has one of the world’s greatest personal fortunes. How our billionaire king spends his money from him and what he does with his vast properties and land holdings may fundamentally change the way Britain sees itself – and how the world regards us.

Royal finances are arcane, mostly anonymous and often blurred between public and personal wealth. The royal cash cow is now the Duchy of Lancaster, an 18,000-hectare (44,000-acre) trove of rich farm and moor lands, chunks of central London, and net assets of £652m. From this he will take around £24m a year.

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In addition, he inherits – and will pay no tax on – his mother’s vast private financial investments, her many privately owned palaces, castles and mansions, as well as the royal art collection and myriad private jewels. With his own mansions, farms and houses, and the former Queen Mother’s £50m estate, he now has a private fortune worth nearly £500mwhich earns him possibly £25m a year.

Beyond that, he receives a quarter of the profits made by the crown estate, the monarch’s property corporation which owns nearly 8,000 sq km of farmland and is valued by Forbes at more than $17bn (£16.3bn). It is no wonder that Charles backs renewable energy. Aside from vast acres of wild lands suitable for onshore wind, the estate owns most of the British foreshore to a distance of 12 miles – perfect for selling leases for offshore wind, tidal and wave power.

It might not go down well to do a Patagonia and try to give it all away to fight climate breakdown. But he could start his green reforms of the monarchy by publicly diving the institution of all fossil fuel interests. Again, we do not know what these investments amount to, but it is likely to be in the many hundreds of millions of pounds. Far from diminishing his wealth from him, the Treasury might even see divestment as a shrewd move if Britain is to reach net zero emissions.

So what could a green king actually do without enraging a government? He could start by offering to the state or the National Trust most of his cold, largely empty, useless castles, palaces and mansions, such as Balmoral and Sandringham.

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He could then slash the estimated £90,000-a-month heating bills of any that are left – Windsor or Sandringham, for example – by investing heavily in heat pumps, solar power and insulation and then switching his bills to renewable energy providers such as Ecotricity or Good Energy.

The next move of a green king would be to radically change the way the monarchy moves. Here Charles could clear out the old rollers and Bentleys, go entirely electric and take to bicycles and rail like other modern monarchies. Soon he will be able to buy an electric plane for short-haul flights, but for now he could offset all journeys.

That leaves the King with a lot of valuable earth that is barely used. If he was brave and fair-minded he could offer the 16 private hectares (39 acres) of Buckingham Palace to London as a new public park, possibly reserving part of it for rewilding or allotments. In the same spirit, he could give ramblers open access to all royal lands and press the Duchy of Lancaster to go organic and achieve net zero within 10 years.

Selling off the family silver is traditionally reserved for governments, but Charles could happily dispose of most of the many thousands of great diamonds, rubies and other jewels that have been handed personally to royalty over 200 years without anyone caring. The billions of pounds raised from such a sale could be used to establish academies of sustainable farming or permaculture in the Commonwealth countries from which most jewels were looted in colonial times and many of which are still struggling to feed themselves.

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Aside from shedding most of his relations, abandoning archaic British empire medals and generally living less lavishly, he could start hosting vegetarian banquets and end hunting on all royal lands.

At which point, he could do the decent thing and abolish himself.

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