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Columnist : ‘King Charles’ can’t be silent on the environment

By Odoh Diego Okenyodo

King Charles has been an environmentalist since the 70s, and it is essential that he speaks a lot about environmental issues now that he is on the throne. Long before he became the heir apparent, he was already speaking about the need to protect the environment. Even his children talked about how their father made them pick trash whenever they littered the home with dirt. But the environmental conditions of the world now are more complex, and the prince who was once outspoken about the environment might not be able to afford the golden silence of a Royal. Or can he?

There is a problem for an African–particularly, a Nigerian–to talk about the word ‘environment’ and not think about the Niger Delta. The environmental degradation in the Niger Delta has been monumental, and it was never really a subject of the then-Crown Prince Charles’s environmental activism. He has been outspoken about the environment, climate change, and the need for renewable energy. In 1970, he told the world, “We are faced at this moment with the horrific effects of pollution in all its cancerous forms.” But that did not so much refer to the Niger Delta, which has witnessed the most difficult environmental trauma since oil shipped from there to the world in 1958. Perhaps, it could be argued that the despoliation of the Niger Delta had not happened at the time, but the Duke of Cornwall kept speaking about the environment over 50 years after and never really thought much of the Niger Delta environment. What did he speak about?

In 2020 in Davos, Charles said he had dedicated his life to “the restoration of harmony between humanity, Nature and the environment, and to the encouragement of corporate social and environmental responsibility. Quite frankly, it has been a bit of an uphill struggle. But, now, it is time to take it to the next level.” See? Now he is King, what other level should we expect him to take this? He instituted a prize called Earthshot to encourage those finding solutions to the problems plaguing the planet. The environmental problems of the planet are legion, and they mostly revolve around the extraction of natural resources, including 40m litres of oil spilt in the Niger Delta annually. King Charles would need to turn his royal gaze to this.

Unfortunately, but understandably, then Prince, Charles had disclosed hemight tone down his vociferous stance on environmental issues if he became King; as he has become King now.His reasoning was that he ought to be more statesmanly and not take positions that could rock boats, especially business boats. That is like when President Muhammadu Buhari overheard the sitting British Prime Minister David Cameron telling Charles’s deceased mum, Queen Elizabeth II, that Nigeria and Afghanistan were “fantastically corrupt” countries. That was embarrassing for both the speaker and the ‘speakee’ (the one who listened). Only President Buhari’s humour nearly saved the day as he asked, not for an apology, but a return of the approximately  $37 billion looted funds stashed in the UK.

And talking about the UK and the warehousing of stolen funds, the new monarch has a lot to do to come out morally clean in front of his subjects in the British Commonwealth. Of course, you say it is the Commonwealth–which the UK interprets as “Yours is ours, and ours is ours”–but must the wealth be removed from the territories of the Commonwealth and stored in just one location in the Commonwealth? These are some reasons for the environmental disasters in some Commonwealth nations, such as Nigeria. Some multinational companies (MNCs) in the oil, gas, and manufacturing sectors with origins or headquarters in the UK have been fingered in tax avoidance, tax evasion or outright tax frauds, and all of these would benefit His Majesty King’s country, so he cannot afford to keep quiet in the face of the embarrassing poverty in the former colonies.

Using tax havens, multinational companies like Shell have done very little to help the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, which were directly linked to their extractive operations. The former Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria set up a company in a tax haven and, for some years, declared to Nigeria that it made no profit by handing all its monies to that company in payment for phantom services. Tax havens under Britain’s control are the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Bermuda, and the like. Three of the world’s top 10 tax havens that enable tax fraud are Overseas Territories of Britain (otherwise known as Britain): the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Bermuda.

So while King Charles is known as an environmentalist who uses solar power at home, trying not to contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, and he has spoken out against the slow pace of implementation of commitments by countries just like his late mother did, he has a lot to do to bring about a saner world in terms of a sustainable environment. He can take steps from the government he is taking charge of today by ensuring that laws in the Overseas Territories used by the world’s greatest polluters to evade payment of taxes are modified to stop sheltering the corrupt companies. These will be within his control, or at least his sphere of influence.

I am sorry to be writing all these very formal, hurtful laments on a day when someone should lament the loss of a loved one. I really have no option. Even he himself would have an ambiguous feeling right now as he takes the throne he has spent nearly a lifetime waiting for. Should he be happy getting crowned, or should he be weeping? This is exactly how I feel writing this. I was torn between publishing what I was really intending to share this week and writing about this unprecedented world event next week, or just seizing the moment when everyone is talking about the late Queen and the new King to put this matter on the table. The matter is that the Crown has a lot it can do to resolve the environmental issues in its dependent countries or former colonies. If the Crown wants to, that is. I am pleading with King Charles that he should have the intention, and some of his earliest actions should be geared towards this. Long live the King, who takes the reins of power with a brand new Prime Minister.

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