King Charles III challenged a gathering of world leaders to take “genuine transformational action” to slow the spiral of greenhouse gas emissions, declaring that “the hope of the world rests on the decisions you must take.”
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, Charles listed a cascade of climate-related natural disasters that had afflicted the world in the last year: wildfires in Canada; floods in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh; cyclones in the Pacific; and a drought in East Africa.
“We are taking the natural world outside balanced norms and limits, and into dangerous uncharted territory,” he said. ”Our choice now is a starker and darker one: How dangerous are we actually prepared to make our world?”
For Charles, who was asked by the British government not to attend the 2022 COP meeting in Egypt, this was a high-profile return to the stage on an issue he has championed since before climate change was part of everyday vocabulary.
The king displayed a familiar mix of evangelical urgency and granular understanding of the details of global climate negotiations. He spoke dramatically of the looming calamity of climate change, but also praised insurance companies for their role in helping support climate finance arrangements.
“I’ve spent a large proportion of my life trying to warn of the existential threats facing us,” said Charles, who recently turned 75. But despite his efforts, he noted that “there is 30 percent more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now then there was” when he first began warning about greenhouse gas emissions.
“It worries me greatly that we remain so dreadfully off track,” he said.
Charles is one several British leaders to appear at COP28 and it was not clear whether their messages would be in sync. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is scheduled to speak later on Friday, has signaled he would relax some of Britain’s goals for emissions reductions if they imposed an intolerable burden on ordinary people.
For Charles, who does not face an election next year, the challenge posed by climate change is simpler and the remedy clearer. Saying that rising temperatures posed an existential risk to humanity, he called for the leaders to take collective action to protect those most immediately harmed by climate change.
“The dangers are no longer distant risks,” he said. “Surely, real action is required to stem the growing toll of its most vulnerable victims.”
“The earth does not belong to us,” Charles concluded. “We belong to the earth.”