Prince Charles: We need a new economic model or the planet will burn
Prince Charles was addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for the first time in nearly 30 years. (Markus Schreiber/AP/CNN)
"We can't go on like this, with every month another record in temperatures being broken," he told CNN in an exclusive interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "If we leave it too long, and we have done, just growing things is going to become difficult."
The heir to the throne and lifelong environmentalist was speaking to CNN after he threw down a challenge to the global business and finance elites in Davos to lead a "paradigm shift, one that inspires action at revolutionary levels and pace" to avert the approaching catastrophe.
"Do we want to go down in history as the people who did nothing to bring the world back from the brink in time to restore the balance when we could have done? I don't want to," he told the audience at the WEF's 50th annual meeting.
"And just think for a moment — what good is all the extra wealth in the world, gained from 'business as usual,' if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?"
Just this year, huge forest fires exacerbated by climate change have devastated vast areas of land in Australia and killed millions of animals. Recent research shows that the world's oceans are absorbing as much heat as that generated by five atomic bombs every second. Toxic smog continues to choke India's cities despite repeated promises of cleaner air from the government, and the last decade was the warmest in recorded history.
The climate crisis stole the headlines on the first full day of this week's meeting in Davos. Teenage activist Greta Thunberg on Tuesday admonished the business and political elite for doing "basically nothing" to reduce the carbon emissions that are fueling global warming.
Speaking later, U.S. President Donald Trump — who has pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Climate accord — signed up for a global initiative to plant 1 trillion trees, but dismissed climate activists as "perennial prophets of doom" and the "heirs of yesterday's foolish fortune tellers." He said breakthroughs that result from the dynamism of market economies were able to solve any problem.
Prince Charles, who discussed climate change with Trump last summer, met Thunberg for the first time after his speech.
"She's remarkable, she represents one of the main reasons why I've been trying to make all this effort all these years," he told CNN. "I've always worried about the fact that so often, in terms of humanity, we leave things too late so you have to hit a brick wall and experience a catastrophe before anything happens."
The Prince of Wales used Wednesday's address to launch his "Sustainable Markets Initiative." He said urgent action was required to reconfigure markets to put people and the planet "at the heart of global value creation."
The next head of state, who gave his first speech on the environment in 1968, said bold and imaginative action was needed to tackle the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. He outlined a 10-point plan to put the natural world at the heart of the business world.
"Nature's contribution to the global economy is estimated to be worth $125 trillion annually," he said. "Nature is, in fact, the lifeblood of our financial markets and, as such, we must — rapidly — realign our own economy to mimic nature's economy and work in harmony with it."
The steps advocated by the prince include reversing damaging subsidies, investing in technological innovation, creating new sustainable products and services, and giving consumers much greater transparency about supply chains.
Last year's global climate summit in Madrid saw some progress in tackling the crisis, but fell far short of what many climate activists and scientists had expected and failed to finalize the rules of a new global carbon market — a key element of the Paris accord.
There have been eye-catching promises by some of the world's top companies in recent weeks. Microsoft said it planned to become emissions "negative" by 2030 as a step towards eradicating its entire historic carbon footprint. And BlackRock, which manages $7 trillion in assets, promised to ditch investments it considers a risk to sustainability.
Prince Charles said he would be convening a series of discussions across a range of industries with innovators, investors and decision-makers to help design a new course and form a global alliance to mobilize the trillions of dollars needed to put the economy "on the correct path."
"I intend to do my utmost to ensure that the message of urgency, systemic change, collaboration and integration is heard," he said. "We simply cannot waste any more time — the only limit is our willingness to act, and the time to act is now."