Let King Charles go to campaign on climate as head of the Commonwealth

Let King Charles go to campaign on climate as head of the Commonwealth

King Charles should attend the COP27 climate summit in Egypt next month as sovereign of Tuvalu, a cluster of Pacific atolls sinking underwater.

He should go as King of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and in spirit as King of Scotland, all countries with enthusiastic net-zero leaders. He should attend too as titular head of those Commonwealth states that pleaded most vehemently for CO2 and methane cuts at last year’s climate summit in Glasgow.

Unless there is a security risk that we have not been told about, it is mystifying that Downing Street should have urged him not to go. Why bench your star player, and why squander soft-power?

The UK still holds the COP26 presidency and is custodian of this UN process until the Egyptian hand-over. Liz Truss is implicitly playing down the significance, and playing down the achievements of Glasgow, that marvelously-refreshing moment when Big Money and Big Industry snatched the baton and showed us how they are going to solve the world’s problem.

Needless to say, COP26 was not reported in that way by political journalists seeking conflict, or by eco-journalists deaf to finance, but that is why it needs a royal champion.

The UK was the first major country to write a binding net-zero pledge into domestic law. It was the first to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. It is the world leader in offshore wind, with breath-taking plans to roll out four times as much by the end of the decade. Green tech is one of the few areas where investment in the UK is booming, and it is booming in neglected coastal towns that most need leveling-up.

Yet by a string of actions, appointments, and comments, the Truss government seems to be disowning the foremost British success story of recent years, even if it has not repudiated net-zero as such. “People are astonished that we’re rowing back on a position of genuine leadership,” said Kingsmill Bond, a former City banker now at energy specialists RMI.

“It is a profound economic error. They seem to be taking us in precisely the wrong direction, just as the world sees a huge spurt of economic growth based on renewable technology,” he said.

The debate over whether or not a decade of green policies has left us more vulnerable to Vladimir Putin’s energy war is in a sense irrelevant, though in my view North Sea oil and gas production fell for market reasons: the fields are mature and global crude prices collapsed between 2014 and 2021.

Liz Truss has to face the post-Putin world as it is. If she is listening to siren voices and believes that Vladimir Putin’s energy war has put the energy transition on hold, she is calamitously ill-advised.

The US, Europe, Japan, China, and India are charging ahead even faster. Britain is in danger of being left behind in the global race for dominance of 21st Century clean tech, sidelined in the biggest economic growth story of our times.

“Things are going to start moving extremely fast. The great energy price spike is going to give way to the great clean energy acceleration,” said Michael Liebriech, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Washington has launched a half-trillion Manhattan Project for clean energy and the electrical grid, if you combine the climate package (IRA) and the infrastructure package. Mr Liebriech said the US is “laying down the gauntlet to Europe and Asia” in climate technology.

China is picking up that gauntlet, not because Xi Jinping is primarily worried about global warming, but because he is worried about losing this technological arms race, and worried about strategic reliance on imported energy.

Carbon Brief says China is on track to double installed wind and solar to 1,200 gigawatts by 2026, four years ahead of pledges in Glasgow. Electric vehicles and hybrids topped 30pc of car sales in August, up 92pc in a year. This is what parabolic disruption looks like.

North European states plan to increase wind power in the Baltic Sea eightfold by 2030. Germany is banning the installation of new gas boilers after 2024. Europe’s Green Deal packages of various kinds and its Hydrogen Strategy amount to €230bn a year through to 2025.

Fumio Kishida has flagged plans for a $1 trillion blast of combined public and private investment this decade to displace imported fossil energy. India is rolling out 450 GW of renewables by 2030, with a clean power target of 50pc.

For the climate at least, Putin’s war has been providential. New renewables were the cheapest form of power for 90pc of humanity before he weaponized the price of gas. Now they are an order of magnitude cheaper yet. Traded global gas prices in August were nine times higher than the UK’s latest offshore wind contracts, or over twenty times the latest solar auctions in Chile, Australia, or the Gulf, even allowing for supply-chain inflation.

The emergency re-firing of coal plants does not change anything. The stars are aligned in a way that has never happened before: green energy has crossed the point of no return on the cost curve; energy security is again paramount; and climate denialism has shrunk to a niche ideology among the over-60s. There is no going back, quite literally for Europe since the Nord Stream pipelines are irreversibly corroded.