Prince Charles unveils plan to save the planet

Inspired: The Terra Carta lays down rules for companies rather than monarchs.

Could the Terra Carta be as important as the Magna Carta? Prince Charles’s proposals for saving the environment may prove a turning point in the battle against climate change.

King John’s hand shook with fury as he raised his pen. Signing the parchment in front of him was the last thing he wanted to do. But the rebel barons who had gathered on the island of Runnymede in the River Thames that June day in 1215 had backed him into a corner. Glowering, the monarch dipped his quill in ink and signed his name.

The Magna Carta – Latin for “Great Charter” – limited royal powers and established key legal principles. It has been described as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”. But yesterday the Prince of Wales launched a document which future generations may consider equally significant: the Terra Carta (Earth Charter).

In an address to the One Planet Summit in Paris, the Prince outlined his plan to achieve global sustainability by recognising that the natural world has fundamental rights. These, he said, need to be factored into all economic decisions.

“The Terra Carta offers the basis of a recovery plan that puts nature, people and planet at the heart of global value creation,” he announced: “one that will harness the precious, irreplaceable power of nature combined with the transformative innovation and resources of the private sector.”

The charter, designed by Sir Jony Ive, is aimed at big businesses. Only they, the Prince said, are able “to mobilise the innovation, scale and resources that are required to transform our global economy”. Among those that have already signed up are BP, Bank of America, Heathrow Airport, AstraZeneca and HSBC.

The Prince wants them to invest £7 bn over the next year in projects and companies that will help restore the environment to health. These could include reforestation as a means of encouraging biodiversity and creating jobs.

Ironically, the Magna Carta included clauses to reduce the size of forests. Those belonging to the king were the subject of particularly harsh laws that prevented anyone else from hunting in them or exploiting their resources. Their expansion had caused resentment among ordinary people by reducing the amount of land available for farming.

Prince Charles added that climate change had reached a tipping point – but that the international response to Covid-19 showed humanity could achieve great things when there was the will to do so.

“Magna Carta inspired a belief in the fundamental rights and liberties of people,” he declared. “As we strive to imagine the next 800 years of human progress, the fundamental rights and value of nature must represent a step-change in our ‘future of industry’ and ‘future of economy’ approach.”

Could the Terra Carta be as important as the Magna Carta?

Knights and rights

Some say, no: the reason the Magna Carta took root in England’s legal system is that the barons were prepared to enforce it by military means. The companies signing up to the Terra Carta are doing so voluntarily, but could easily change their minds. It is hard to see Heathrow Airport, for instance, agreeing to abandon its plans for a third runway as environmentalists want it to.

Others argue that the Terra Carta’s strength lies in addressing life-threatening dangers and stating vital principles – just as the Magna Carta did. In 1215, one of the people’s greatest fears was being thrown into prison or executed because the monarch took a dislike to them. Today, one of their greatest fears is that climate change, driven by the quest for profit, will destroy the planet.

You Decide

  1. Should crimes against the planet be punished in the same way as crimes against people?
  2. Was Prince Charles right to aim his charter at companies rather than countries?

Activities

  1. Draw up a charter for your household and try to persuade every member to sign it.
  2. In Greek mythology Gaia was the goddess of the Earth. Draw a political cartoon showing a meeting between Gaia and Prince Charles.

Some People Say...

“Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”

Plato (429 - 347BC), Greek philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election is a great boost for the environmental movement. America took a huge step backwards under Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change and encouraged industries such as coal mining which are damaging to the planet. Biden has said that he will sign the agreement and invest the equivalent of more than £2 tn in clean energy so that the US can achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether the Magna Carta was a genuinely democratic document. Some historians argue that its purpose was simply to protect the barons’ interests: it limited the tax they had to pay and included clauses relating to specific people they disliked. But there is no doubt that it proved a vital counterweight to the idea that monarchs had a divine right to treat their subjects as they pleased. It was also a strong influence on the wording of America’s constitution.

Word Watch

King John
Ruler of England from 1199 to 1216. As a child he was nicknamed Lackland because he was not expected to become king, but he did after the death of his brother Richard I.
Barons
Members of the aristocracy. The Magna Carta stipulated that a council of 25 barons would enforce it, seizing the king’s castles and lands if necessary.
Glowering
Staring crossly. It may derive from an old Icelandic word.
Magna Carta
Revised versions of the charter were drawn up in 1215, 1217, 1225 and 1297. Four copies of the original survive, in Salisbury, Lincoln and the British Library.
Despot
Tyrant. Historically it was the title of a Christian ruler who paid allegiance to the Ottoman Empire.
One Planet Summit
An annual conference devoted to the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Sir Jony Ive
A British designer who played a key role in developing Apple’s products including the iPhone and the iPad.
AstraZeneca
A British-Swedish pharmaceutical company which has developed one of the first vaccines against Covid-19 in conjunction with Oxford University.

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