Prince Charles Presents the Terra Carta, a Charter for Planet Earth

Inspired by the Magna Carta, this document offers a blueprint for a more eco-friendly future.

Prince Charles

Getty Images/Sean Gallup

More than 800 years ago, the Magna Carta was created to broker peace between King John of England and a group of troublesome barons. Since then it has become a meaningful symbol of liberty and democracy, reassuring citizens of their right to justice and protection from arbitrary punishment.

Fast forward to January 2021, and His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales, has created another document called the Terra Carta that he hopes will galvanize global citizens to defend their beloved Earth from environmental injustices. The Terra Carta was presented on January 11, 2021, ahead of the One Planet summit in Paris, and is asking signatories to agree to nearly 100 actions that would make the Earth a cleaner, safer place by 2030.

Supporters would enter into voluntary commitments to support international climate agreements and work to protect half the planet by 2050, to fight desertification and promote biodiversity, to make environmentally-friendly investing decisions, and to strive for fewer greenhouse gas emissions wherever possible, among other promises.

From the Prince's foreword:

"Humanity has made incredible progress over the past century, yet the cost of this progress has caused immense destruction to the planet that sustains us. We simply cannot maintain this course indefinitely. To build a productive and sustainable future, it is critical that we accelerate and mainstream sustainability into every aspect of our economy. To move forward, there must be a center of gravity to catalyze such a monumental effort, and to mobilize the resources and incentives required."

The Terra Carta offers a blueprint for making sustainability mainstream and slowing degradation of the natural environment. The 17-page document contains ten articles spread throughout five sections. These sections explore various aspects of greening the economy, incentivizing innovation, prioritizing sustainable investment, and redesigning for net-zero and nature-positive transitions.

The articles touch on a broad range of important changes that must happen. For example, Article 3 explores the power of consumers and how they control 60% of global GDP, which gives them the ability to transform markets; but they cannot be expected to do this if they don't understand their options. 

"They deserve to be told more about product lifecycles, supply chains and production methods... If all the true costs are taken into account, including the cost to Nature, being socially and environmentally responsible should be the least expensive option because it leaves the smallest footprint behind."

Article 5 calls for game-changing technologies to be prioritized. Electric flight propulsion, nuclear fusion, advanced biofuels, biomimicry, and soil regeneration are listed as several examples of innovations in need of greater investment and development.

Article 8 says it's time for strong market incentives, such as carbon pricing, to prioritize sustainable developments. "Re-orientating economic subsidies, financial incentives and regulations can have a dramatic and transformative effect on our market systems. It is time to level the playing field and to think about how we properly deploy taxes, policies and regulation in a way that catalyzes sustainable markets."

So far the list of partners on the Terra Carta website are all huge companies, such as Bank of America, HSBC, and BP, many of whom have powerful ties to the fossil fuel industry – or, as in the case of BP, are the fossil fuel industry themselves, which leaves one slightly puzzled. But the Guardian thinks this is still a hopeful sign: "While some signatories are big investors or financiers for the fossil fuel industry and sectors linked to biodiversity loss, the commitments signal an intention to transition to a low-carbon future that also backs biodiversity restoration."

The fact that the Terra Carta is non-binding is, of course, unfortunate. Until companies are held accountable and forced to pay the consequences of inadequate effort, there is little inclination to make meaningful changes. But there is no doubt that the global mood is shifting, that concerns about the climate crisis are stronger than ever, and that companies are being criticized more vocally for their inaction. As journalist Elizabeth Cline recently told Treehugger within the context of fashion – but it applies here, too – "Companies can't afford the reputational damage of being linked to bad business practices anymore."

Prince Charles described the Terra Carta as an urgent appeal, for businesses and leaders from all sectors and backgrounds to "bring prosperity into harmony with nature, people and planet" over the next ten years. He said, "I can only encourage, in particular, those in industry and finance to provide practical leadership to this common project, as only they are able to mobilise the innovation, scale and resources that are required to transform our global economy."

If the Terra Carta has a fraction of the sticking power that the Magna Carta did, then it will be deemed a success.