Departing Prime Minister Theresa May has committed the UK to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but the memo hasn’t been received by Buckingham Palace.
The royal family’s carbon emissions associated with ‘business travel’ virtually doubled last year, according to the royal household’s annual financial statement for 2018-19, released this week. The royals expended 3,344 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents as they embarked on chartered flights on five overseas tours.
Last year, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall—that’s Prince Charles and Camilla— travelled to the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. The Duke of Cambridge took in the Middle East, and the newlywed Duke and Duchess of Sussex embarked on a much-publicised tour of Australia. On several of those trips, the royals made impassioned speeches about protecting the environment and limiting climate change.
“It is going to take every single one of us to stop the clock on the destruction of our planet, and time is not on our side. The standard we walk past is the standard we accept,” Prince Harry said in Sydney in October.
The previous year, royal travel was responsible for 1,687 tonnes of CO2 emissions, meaning travel emissions were 98% in 2018-19.
However, the environmentally conscious Prince of Wales—praised by his son as a prescient conservationist in the same speech Down Under—will be pleased to see the royal household achieved a 22% reduction in carbon emissions from utilities. Royal residences have reportedly adopted motion-sensitive LED lighting, solar panels, and biomass boilers in an effort to conserve energy.
Buckingham Palace, once slated as the most energy inefficient building in London, is currently undergoing a 10-year, £369 million refurbishment expected to make it as much as 40% more energy efficient. The renovation is replacing electrical writing and heating systems which haven’t been updated since shortly after the war.
While it’s unknown if the building’s single-glazed windows will be replaced—there are historical and architectural conservationist considerations as well—the Palace is getting solar panels on the roof and an anaerobic digestion unit which will generate from biogas from food and organic waste.
It may also receive solar thermal panels, electrical heating, ground source heat pumps, and fuel cells as part of the publicly funded renovation.
Still, it reportedly costs £1.1 million a year to heat the palace, partly because, a 2015 report found, too many windows are left open. Last year, the Queen was advertising for an energy and environment manager to help bring down those bills—and presumably close some windows.
But efficiency gains at home were eroded by the increase in the family’s travel emissions, however, meaning the royals’ overall carbon footprint was up 3%.
But while the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall’s carbon emissions were up 2%, their travel mileage increased 13%, suggesting they are using more efficient and less carbon-intensive forms of travel than in previous years.
Overall, the cost of the royals’ travel was down £100,000 last year. The most expensive tour was Charles and Camilla’s to the Caribbean and Cuba, which cost £415,000.
Royal sources attributed the rise in carbon emissions to five overseas visits, compared to just one the year before, and said the trips were directed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
However, royal biographer Penny Junor has suggested the royal family ditch the chartered flight and start travelling with the rest of us.
“They should practice what they preach,” she told The Times.