One word that is notably absent from my tattered CV is monarchist.
It probably started out as pure jealousy in my, um, more youthful days when I was subjected to grainy pictures in the Sunday Scream or Movietone news clips of rich, spoiled royals racing around in Maseratis or flying their personal jets, always accompanied by gorgeous princesses called Sophia. My rancour deepened during the '60s and '70s when Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands was caught pocketing a US$1 million bribe from the Lockheed Corporation. Once my plain old envy had been cleared away, it was replaced by the cold logic of the maturing elder. What on earth was the relevancy of this corrupt and mediaeval clique in the 21st century?
"It's part of the fabric of British, and Dutch, and Swedish, and definitely Monégasque society," said my detractors. I didn't really buy into that until I had spent a decade and a half of my valuable life working in Africa's two remaining monarchies, Lesotho and Swaziland. It was not difficult to appreciate the reverence those folks have for their royals. Both the Basotho and the Swazi literally owe their existence as nations to their earlier monarchs. For the Basotho it was the 19th century monarch, Moshoeshoe, who gave both Brit and Boer a run for their money and eventually forged a nation out of a scattering of loose tribes. The late Swazi king Sobhuza II had a nominal reign of 82 years and nine months, the longest documented reign of any monarch since antiquity, during which he took his country from colony to protectorate to independent kingdom.
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But monarchs are as monarchs do. Present-day King Mswati III of Swaziland won't allow open democratic elections in his country of a million people. He has a personal fortune estimated at $100 million and is famous for his stable of swanky cars, including a $500,000 Maybach for himself and a fleet of BMW X-5s, one for each of his 14 wives. That's to go with the 14 palaces. Two years ago he blew $1.5 million on his 40th birthday party. And this in a country where 40 percent of the workforce are unemployed and get by on less than $2 per day, and 40 percent of the entire population have HIV/AIDS. And so I'm back to my original postulate: What's the point?
But now a glimmer of enlightenment has appeared through the anti-monarchic murk. It's in the form of his Royal Nibs Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay and Lord of the Jolly Olde Isles. Charles has had some rotten press over the years for a large number of reasons, not least the whole unfortunate Diana thing. That all brought him pretty close to being in the Mswati league. But look a bit closer and more sterling stuff emerges.
Charles has long been an annoyance to some, and especially to the architectural profession, because of his strongly voiced opposition to modern architecture and urban design. The Prince has not been backward in espousing his views that urban planning, design and regeneration should be done to create urban areas on a human scale that encourages a sense of community and pride of place. At Poundbury and Newquay, two urban extensions in Dorset on Duchy land, the Prince reportedly strives to create sustainable communities that are safer and healthier for residents. Pedestrians take priority over cars, and communities are mixed-use with workplaces integrated with housing. This will all have a familiar ring to Vancouverites.
The Prince of Wales has been declared dotty by the popular media because of his interest in new age philosophy, magic and alternative medicine. That would put him middle of the road in Vancouver. It turns out that he is a fan of Leonard Cohen and the Burnley Football Club. Well, perhaps he is just a little dotty. But it's hardly earth-shattering stuff. What are significant are his mainstream activities. He has become a doyen of organic farming and has written a book on the subject. He converted his estate at Highgrove, Gloucestershire, into an organic farm that now sells more than 200 different sustainably produced products, from food to furniture. In 1990 he launched his own organic brand, Duchy Originals, the profits from which are donated to The Prince's Charities. There is an undeniable air of landed gentility about the whole business of locally produced food from royal properties, but one cannot fault its quality and financial success. Even Bill McKibben would be impressed. In 2007 the Prince launched his May Day Network, which encourages British businesses to take action on climate change. He has openly published the details of his own carbon footprint, as well as the targets set for reducing Royal household carbon emissions.
The Prince of Wales is now 62 and his latest endeavour definitely puts him into the elder league. In 2008 the United Nations set up its Collaborative Initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) in developing countries. Run collaboratively by the three UN agencies dealing with forests and natural resources (FAO, UNDP and UNEP), the programme aims to assist developing countries prepare and implement national strategies to reduce deforestation through activities such as developing guidelines on the measurement, reporting and verification of carbon emissions, ensuring that forests continue to provide multiple benefits for livelihoods and for the environment, and supporting the engagement of indigenous peoples and civil society at all stages of the design and implementation of REDD+ strategies. It's all very well-intentioned and addresses one of the most critical issues stemming from the changing world climate, but it seems to resonate with the usual clunk of ponderous UN bureaucracy and top-heavy dithering.
Prince Charles may just have come up with the game changer. He has preached the gospel about rainforest conservation for decades but has now put his name and his influence behind the REDD+ initiative in the form of The Prince's Rainforest Project. The project is directed by top-flight professionals in forestry, economics and international finance and is backed up by a steering group of more than 140 prominent British and international companies plus some individual advisers of the calibre of Lord Stern. The prince explained his motivation in a public address: "I have endeavoured to create a global public, private and NGO partnership to discover an innovative means of halting tropical deforestation. Success would literally transform the situation for our children and grandchildren and for every species on the planet." The crux of the royal effort is to set up a viable market-based mechanism to achieve the essential goals:
— payments to Rainforest Nations for not deforesting;
— multi-year "service agreements" based on clear performance targets;
— payments used to fund alternative, low-carbon economic development plans;
— transparent, in-country, multi-stakeholder disbursement mechanisms;
— a "Tropical Forests Facility" focused on results;
— developed country financing from public and private sources;
— "Rainforest Bonds" issued in private capital markets;
— Rainforest Nations participating when ready;
— facilitating and accelerating a long-term UNFCCC agreement on forests; and
— global action to address the drivers of deforestation.
Now, achieving all this is hopefully going to produce some real long-term climatic, economic and social benefits, but it's going to be sweat and tears for most of the way. It would be a lot more fun to cruise from palace to palace in a Maybach.