Prince faces climate change dilemma over cruise

He says he is a green pioneer, and flaunts his environmental credentials. So why is Prince Charles leaving today on a cruise that will do as much damage to the planet as 260 transatlantic flights?

A A A

Evoking the atmosphere of the grandest of English country houses, complete with sumptuous staterooms, jacuzzi and an on-board gymnasium and sauna, few would dispute that the 246ft super-yacht Leander affords one of the most luxurious ways to cruise the azure seas of the Caribbean. Whether it is coursing through the water on one of the yacht's jet-skis, or simply enjoying a gin and tonic at sunset in the air-conditioned cabins, life on board is unforgettable.

Today, the Prince of Wales and his consort, the Duchess of Cornwall, will board the £50m vessel to begin a tour in which, Clarence House says, they will "reinforce Britain's ties with the important Commonwealth countries" in the region. On their way, the royal couple will be taken to a rainforest conservation project and marvel at some of the region's stunning bio-diversity before enjoying a trip to Kingston's famous Bob Marley Museum and the home of reggae.

Their 14-strong entourage, plus unspecified security detail, will spend 11 days travelling between sun-kissed islands, attended to by a crew of 24, cementing links as they go with the people of Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia and Jamaica as well as those on the volcano-hit territory of Montserrat.

But while neither Charles nor Camilla are strangers to this dizzying level of luxury – the Duchess enjoyed a week-long break on the same yacht only last year in an attempt to escape the fallout from her sudden withdrawal from the 10th anniversary memorial service for Diana, Princess of Wales – it is not the quality of the accommodation that is raising eyebrows, it is the justification for it. Clarence House has pointed out that hiring the yacht would not only ease the strains on the public purse, having apparently negotiated a hefty discount from Leander's owner, the NCP tycoon Donald Goslin, on his usual £40,000-a-day charter cost, but it would be good for the environment too. The Prince's staff had calculated that by using the yacht, plus taking schedule flights and even sending Camilla to the airport by Gatwick Express, would also rack up a 40 per cent reduction in the amount of carbon emissions compared with the last royal trip to the region in 2000.

But there is a slight flaw in Charles's dreams of a guilt-free Caribbean odyssey: experts are warning that, far from minimising the tour's carbon footprint, his chosen method of transport could do more damage to the environment than several hundred transatlantic flights. Despite his high-profile stance on green issues and championing of organic food, the Aston Martin-driving Prince has earned his fair share of environmental brickbats over the years, not least for his well-known taste for luxury and penchant for helicopter travel.

At a recent appearance in Abu Dhabi, the Prince emphasised his commitment to reducing his own carbon footprint when he addressed an audience of world leaders on the thorny issue of future energy use via a Star Trek-style hologram. He told his audience that "climate change is now so urgent that we have less than 10 years to slow, stop and reverse greenhouse gas emissions". He added: "Common actions are needed in every country to protect the common inheritance that has been given to us by our Creator."

It may be a shock to Charles to learn the full extent of his cruise's potential impact. Leander is expected to cover 1,500 miles , at a modest 15 knots. Assuming the fuel consumption rate is no more than 50 litres a mile, the ship will use 75,000 litres of diesel on the trip. The National Energy Foundation website says the cruise will pump a total of some 200 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, enough to fly the average passenger from London to New York 260 times.

A spokeswoman for the Prince, speaking from the Caribbean yesterday, insisted the Leander was the most environmentally sound option, pointing out that Charles would also be carbon offsetting any emissions accrued during his time in the Caribbean.

Clarence House is said to be furious at claims of a "green wash" and incredulous at suggestions that the real reason the yacht has been chartered is because 60-year-old Camilla is scared of flying. One report says although the Duchess was prepared to travel on a scheduled plane to Antigua last Friday to spend a few days with her former husband, Peter Parker Bowles, before her official duties begin, she drew the line at boarding the notoriously turbulence-prone small aircraft that link the various islands. But it cannot have escaped either royal's notice that the Leander also offers the chance of four undisturbed days at sea when they can avail themselves of the facilities as the couple recuperate before continuing their duties on Jamaica.

"The carbon emissions generated by this are considerably less than the other option, which is to charter a plane around the islands," the spokeswoman said. "We took all the factors into consideration when we planned the trip. It is also much cheaper and less cost to the taxpayer."

She said the option of flying between islands was further complicated by the fact that a second twin-propeller plane would have been needed to land on tiny Montserrat. In addition, the Prince will not be using Leander's helicopter, preferring the yacht's two tenders to convey his party to shore.

James Grazebrook, spokesman for Superyacht UK, said using Leander as a hotel the touring party would dramatically reduce CO2 emissions. "Leander is an older, slower, vessel which means she is pushing through the water rather skimming across it," he said. "Displacement vessels such as these travel at low speeds and use only 20 per cent of the energy used by high speed vessels. What he has actually done is charter a Volvo estate and not a Ferrari. So because it is a Volvo estate it will use a lot less carbon."

But Tony Cottee, of the radical direct action environmental pressure group Rising Tide, said it was "typical" of the Prince of Wales to flaunt his environmental credentials while continuing to damage the planet with his profligate lifestyle. "He seems to be redefining the dictionary definition of sustainability. It is typical of people in his position. They have no basis of understanding compared to someone who lives in a council flat and is trying to cut their emissions, for example, by buying more efficient white goods, which are still more expensive than inefficient ones. When you compare this to people who are struggling to make a difference, something like this will blow anything they can do right out of the water for the rest of their lives."

Figures from the United Nations last month show that annual emissions from shipping dwarfs that of aviation and is likely to soar by a further 30 per cent by 2020, making it the largest single source of man-made CO2 after cars, housing, agriculture and industry.

David Lee, professor of atmospheric science at Manchester Metropolitan University, says ships have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere since 1870, 70 years before aviation began to have an impact. As a result, shipping's overall effect on the climate is twice that of aeroplanes. Paradoxically, efforts to clean up the dirtiest vessels by reducing sulphur emissions could causing the disappearance of the low clouds that form over busy shipping lanes and radiate the sun's heat back out into space, so helping keep the planet cool.

Jean Leston, transport policy officer for WWF UK, said it was now vital emissions from shipping were included, along with aviation, in the Climate Change Bill making its way through Parliament. And it is not just the vast supertankers that are causing the problem. Big cruise liners produce 0.43kg of CO2 per passenger mile, compared to 0.257kg for flying.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

£22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Day In a Page

Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world