Prince Charles’s pointed message to China: the polluter must pay if we are to save the planet

The Prince of Wales will tell China that world leaders must adopt a “polluter pays principle” to “supercharge” saving the planet.

Prince Charles will speak at a UN biodiversity conference in Kunming, China, at the invitation of President Xi Jinping, using the soft power of the Royal family to try to convince the world’s biggest polluters to change.

Praising thousands of years of Chinese civilisation for its “intimate understanding of nature”, he will go on to deliver a three-part challenge to global leaders.

Arguing they must put nature at the heart of their economies and change how they use land and produce food, the Prince will ask that they adopt a “polluter pays principle”.

To “accelerate our efforts further”, he will say, “properly pricing carbon would immediately catalyse the green economy while supercharging climate and biodiversity outcomes”.

Speaking via video to the Conference of the Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity, he will deliver opening remarks.

Despite an uneasy relationship with China in the past, the Prince will set aside reported concerns over previous Chinese regimes to prioritise changing hearts and minds.

In an interview with the BBC on Monday, he spoke of his willingness to convene climate change talks even with those who had previously ridiculed him, saying he has “no axe to grind” and is “only keen to get the damn thing sorted”.

Spelling out his frustration at world leaders who continually “just talk” about the environment, the Prince said he understood the frustration of activists such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain, even if he considered tactics such as blocking roads as not “helpful”.

He said: “All these young people feel nothing is ever happening, so of course they’re going to get frustrated. I totally understand because nobody would listen and they see their future being totally destroyed.

“So I totally understand the frustration. The difficulty is how do you direct that frustration in a way that is more constructive rather than destructive.”

While young people “really mind” about the climate, the Prince said, “they haven’t quite got to the top to make a fundamental difference”, with next month’s Cop26 “a last-chance saloon”. 

“I mean, it’ll be catastrophic,” he said of further lack of action. “It is already beginning to be catastrophic because nothing in nature can survive the stress that is created by these extremes of weather.”

Climate change

Asked how he could influence countries such as Australia, whose prime minister Scott Morrison is so far not planning to attend Cop26, the Prince told the BBC: “You gently try to suggest there could be other ways of doing things… otherwise you accuse me of meddling and interfering.”

Asked if the UK Government, as the host of the conference in Glasgow, was doing enough to fight climate change, the Prince replied: “I couldn’t possibly comment.”

In a speech due to be broadcast to delegates in China on Tuesday, the Prince will say the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how “human health, economic health and planetary health are fundamentally interconnected”, with biodiversity conferences providing “unmissable opportunities to accelerate action in a more sustainable direction”.

“Of course, an intimate understanding of nature has underpinned Chinese civilisation, craftsmanship and philosophy for millennia,” he will say.

The three-point plan to save the planet

Making a three-point proposal to help the planet, he will argue for “first, putting nature at the heart of our economy”.

Second, he said, leaders must adopt a “polluter pays” principle to “properly price” carbon in a way that reflects the damage it does to the environment.

A source said that exact policies are down to governments to implement. Earlier this year, Boris Johnson asked UK government departments to produce a price for carbon emissions emanating from various goods, which could include meat, cheese and gas heating.

Thirdly, the Prince will add, leaders should rethink “our land, food and health systems”, using more sustainable practices.

Warning that “time is not on our side”, the Prince will say: “It is a humbling realisation that everything we need to survive – the food we eat, the water we drink, the oxygen we breathe – depends on the work of other species and the ecosystems they create.

“When we protect lands and oceans, we in fact protect ourselves. Nature bounces back, bringing with her all the benefits on which life depends.”

Cop26 gets underway on October 31 and the Prince is due to attend in person, along with the Queen, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

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