The climate crisis will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and world governments must adopt a “warlike footing” if humanity is to avoid “an ultimate reckoning for our abuse of nature,” the Prince of Wales has warned.
“The borderless climate, biodiversity and health crises are all symptoms of a planet that has been pushed beyond its planetary boundaries,” the prince said in remarks for the opening of the Climate Week NYC summit today. “Without swift and immediate action at an unprecedented pace and scale, we will miss the window of opportunity to reset for a green-blue recovery and a more sustainable and inclusive future.”
The first in line to the British throne and a veteran environmental campaigner, the prince said climate change was now a “comprehensive catastrophe” that required a “Marshall-like plan for nature, people and planet.”
Singling out the melting of permafrost in Siberia and the burning of large areas of the Pantanal region in Brazil as pivotal climate events, the prince warned there would be an “ultimate reckoning for our abuse of nature.”
To counter these impacts, he said, would now require all nations to adopt a “military-style campaign” of action. “If we have the resolve to shift our trajectory,” he went on, “we will start now by bringing forward our net zero target. I’m afraid 2050 simply suggests we have room to delay.”
Notably, the prince did not mention which year he thought the net zero target should be brought forward to. But he said such a plan should begin with the publication of clear climate roadmaps “that identify the steps to net zero from 2020 to 2030, along with plans for the protection and restoration of natural capital and biodiversity.”
He went on to note recent research that shows firms which comply with best environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices perform better than those which do not, “even in the current economic crisis.”
“We need our financial experts, along with our chief financial officers, to help design the business and investment case to match growing demand for sustainable goods and services,” Charles said.
The prince also drew attention to his own project, the Sustainable Markets Initiative, the work of which he said should encourage countries to publish net zero ambitions ahead of COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Glasgow in November 2021.
“Billions of people around the world are waiting and longing for concerted action to right the balance of this planet that we have so rashly disrupted,” he said. “Millions of younger employees of countless companies and corporations are desperate for action, not more words. It is their lives we are gambling with, as well as the ultimate survival of everything that tries to share this ailing Earth with us.”
It was a stern admonition to attendees of Climate Week NYC, which is hosting government and business leaders from around the world to discuss action on climate change. The event is being held mostly online owing to coronavirus-related measures. A particular focus this year is on the U.K. and its preparations for COP26, at which countries are to set out enhanced targets on emissions reductions. Alok Sharma, the U.K. secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy and COP26 president, will speak at key events during the week.
Joining Climate Group CEO Helen Clarkson at the opening ceremony were business leaders and academics including Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart
While Prince Charles’ tone was solemn and martial, some speakers at the opening of Climate Week adopted a more optimistic air. Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said: “We are now more sober after the shock of the pandemic. Recognizing we live in a more shock-prone world, we need to build resilience for the future.” She added that countries now had a “unique opportunity to pour into the economy a massive stimulus, and it is just common sense that we use the money to build the economy of tomorrow.”
Climate Week NYC will run until September 27.