The prince and the profiteers

Prince Charles has found a new role for himself as a globe-trotting convener of ‘green finance’.

James Woudhuysen

Prince Charles gave a seemingly interminable address to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland this week. He and his speechwriters caught the green zeitgeist among the global elite with great precision. Charles called for ‘nothing short of a paradigm shift’ and action ‘at revolutionary levels and pace’.

The speech marked a shift in the prince’s own thinking as well. In 2009, Charles warned that mankind had until just 2017 to save the planet. Only last year he argued that mankind was probably too late.

But before meeting the bankers and Greta Thunberg at Davos this year, our king-to-be had changed his tune. The prince now wants to ‘kickstart a decade of action’ alongside his newly enlightened friends in high places. Partly in the hope that the Thunberg generation will no longer ‘accuse’ him of ‘doing nothing’.

According to Charles, what has changed is that in the past two or three years, more of the world’s money – sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, insurance and asset portfolios – has gone into green technologies, on which returns are more and more out-performing those on traditional investment portfolios. Many central banks and financial institutions have also committed to ‘integrating climate risk into stress-testing, supervision and disclosure’, with mandatory disclosure coming next.

The prince believes solving environmental problems is often ‘simply about bringing the right people together’. He wants the public, private and philanthropic sectors to go green in ‘enhanced partnerships’. Innovators, decision-makers and investors with trillions of dollars could form ‘an unprecedented global alliance’, he says.

HRH envisages a ‘convening role’ for himself in all this. He will get to most, if not all, of this year’s major global meetings – the G7 summit, the G20 summit, certainly the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, maybe even the 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference. He will do his utmost ‘to ensure that the message of urgency, systemic change, collaboration and integration is heard’.

One problem is that Prince Charles vastly overestimates existing investment in green technologies, even if he is right to hint that the woke war on fossil fuels has now reached central banks and financial regulators. General capital investment has slumped in the US, UK and many parts of the West. The vogue for what is glibly termed ‘green finance’ cannot disguise the fact that, for a long time, real investment in renewables around the world has been stagnant.

The prince’s forthcoming interventions will be part of a much wider Sustainable Markets Initiative, which he will run with cash from the WEF. But what does the prince mean by ‘sustainable markets’? Is he following Margaret Thatcher’s endorsement of ‘sustainable development’ in 1988? According to Charles, sustainable markets generate long-term value through the balance of natural, social, human and financial capital. They ‘put nature, and the protection of nature’s capital – from which we draw an annual return – at the heart of how we operate’, especially given that ‘nature is, in fact, the lifeblood of our financial markets’. They are about ‘responsible transition pathways to decarbonise and move to net zero’. They are a lens to ‘look at our markets using a business-model approach to revenue generation and system operations’. They mean investing in nature ‘as the true engine of our economy’. They rely on unified, global standards around ‘ESG [environment, social and governance] methodologies’.

No doubt royal courtiers helped the prince to lard his mad political economy with all the business buzzwords. This was Davos, after all. But we should not be complacent about what the prince’s intervention means. His new doctrine includes his old environmental catastrophism.

But like Boris Johnson, who expects the market to find ‘sustainable solutions to the future’ to create a ‘green powerhouse’, Charles’ vision suggests that sustainability and profitability go hand in hand. He envisages ‘entire new industries’ based on our new environmental demands, which will replace the old dirty ones. These industries may not exist yet, or even by the time old ones fold, but they will arrive eventually, we are assured.

In this pipe dream, Prince Charles looks forward to ‘commercially viable, hydrogen-powered and electric aircraft within the decade’ (although according to his previous predictions, we may all be dead by then). And, he added, we are witnessing ‘breakthroughs’ in the cost of solar power – breakthroughs that ‘have the potential to revolutionise almost every industry’.

These upbeat arguments merely put an exciting gloss on the old green programme of austerity. Back in the real world, Boeing tries to fly unsafe aircraft, and the Airbus 380 superjumbo has collapsed, so I won’t be as eager as Prince Charles to board one of his hydrogen or electric aircraft.

As for renewables fixing everything, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2019 points out that they currently account for just 25 per cent of power generation, 10 per cent of heat production and less than five per cent of world transport.

For all the high-tech utopianism, the prince is adamant that ‘being socially and environmentally conscious cannot only be for those who can afford it’. Not just the Davos billionaires, but the poor plebs must sign up to his agenda, too.

Part of that agenda – endorsed by Thunberg and many others – is that ‘perverse’ subsidies for fossil fuels must end. This completely ignores the political considerations in places like China, India, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran and Venezuela and the consequences of making fuel much dearer there. The UK doesn’t actually subsidise fossil fuels, but greens consider the five per cent rate of VAT on household energy bills to be a subsidy. Removing the ‘subsidy’ would mean hiking the tax on energy to 20 per cent, in line with other consumer goods.

The new green era promises to be a great climate for royals and business people, but it looks a bit less rosy for the rest of us.

James Woudhuysen is visiting professor of forecasting and innovation at London South Bank University. He is also editor of Big Potatoes: the London Manifesto for Innovation. Read his blog here.

Picture by: YouTube.

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Comments

David McAdam

25th January 2020 at 3:17 pm

The man who in 2009 warned we only had 6 years left before the planet reached a tipping point of no return. He revised this in 2015 to 20 years.

John Lewis

25th January 2020 at 8:56 am

By all means let’s remove the “fossil fuel subsidy” by raising VAT to 20%. In return all of the green/sustainable additions to our bills will be removed to ensure a level playing field. Let’s do it now.

Jim Lawrie

26th January 2020 at 12:21 pm

I’d prefer to remove VAT on everything, and government subsidies to charities, quangoes and employers.
Having played the Irish terrorist card for an open border, the EU now realise that VAT free goods could cross unimpeded. So they are trying to force The UK to protect EU VAT revenue because the only other option is for them to barricade the border they said they did not want. Then the terrorist/smugglers might turn their guns on an EU border force in Ireland.

steven brook

25th January 2020 at 7:58 am

“electric aircraft within the decade” A cure for cancer – self driving cars – a man on Mars – aways with 10 years. Bring back Tomorrows World for a laugh.

Jim Lawrie

26th January 2020 at 5:35 pm

I’d settle for nuclear power and driverless cars.

Mike Stallard

25th January 2020 at 7:20 am

Renewables?
Yesterday in the UK, solar electricity accounted for about 0.5%, while wind went right down to 7% of production. Who picked up the slack? Coal went up to 7% and oil did the heavy lifting at nearly 60%. Dear old nuclear chugged along as usual producing about a quarter of our supply.
On good days, of course, wind can reach as high as a third of our production and solar can go up to perhaps 15%.
But we do not want your average figures when we take a bath or need our (very expensive) electric car recharging do we.

Jim Lawrie

24th January 2020 at 10:58 pm

Charles the scientist cum economist. With the best tutelage on the planet he could not pass ‘O’ Level maths. In 5 attempts..

Mike Stallard

25th January 2020 at 7:22 am

This man is within just a hairsbreadth of becoming Charles III. He makes me fear for the monarchy.

Aunty Podes

24th January 2020 at 10:35 pm

The eternal melonhead pontificates – what’s new?

Jerry Owen

24th January 2020 at 6:37 pm

Prince Charles is bonkers.
If anyone seriously believes that the banks believe in the green agenda, they must ask themselves why they still lend mortgages on properties in London, New York and any beach front residence if sea levels are rising drastically. As Dan Pena quite rightly notes, no sane bank whatsoever would lend a pound over a 25 year period against any property that will allegedly be flooded in ten years time.

michael savell

24th January 2020 at 6:31 pm

While people can’t afford houses due to central banks handing out money to their mates who sit on the money just waiting to cash in on repos when they see an opportune moment and new building is just not being built here comes Charlie suggesting that people without 2 pennies to rub together
join him in his effort to increase our fuel bills by millions.Perhaps he should have a word with those guys living on the streets,invite them round for a bite to eat and a cocktaIL or 2 and explain to them how he manages to make a crust.He lives in nevernever l;and.

NEIL DATSON

24th January 2020 at 5:34 pm

I suppose, were I a major investor, that I might see all this nonsense as a reason to move funds towards fossil fuels. If other capitalists reduce investment in them they will presumably go up in value. (In much the same way as, I believe, some did very well by backing big tobacco as and when the self-righteous sold out of it.)

I can’t see the poorer voters in any self-respecting democracy agreeing to ever-increasing taxes on energy just because Prince Charles believes that they shouldn’t be using it.

Ven Oods

24th January 2020 at 4:27 pm

“He will do his utmost ‘to ensure that the message of urgency, systemic change, collaboration and integration is heard’.”

One of Chaz’s major delusions is to believe that most people give a toss about him or what he thinks. Hence his spidery missives to successive PMs, none of whom had the cojones to tell him to mind his peace.

T Zazoo

24th January 2020 at 5:13 pm

In contrast the Crown Prince of Sweden appears to be keeping his head down which is probably a wise move.

Jerry Owen

24th January 2020 at 6:43 pm

Is this the same Prince Charles that several years ago lamented about the grey squirrel becoming extinct in 30 years time .. some ten years after humans become extinct by any chance?
The man’s mad I tell you ..the man’s mad, as private Frazer would say.

Mike Stallard

25th January 2020 at 7:24 am

Like George III? Or the hidden son of George VI whose name I forget?

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