There can’t be many heads of state who can claim that since 1970 they have been fighting against pollution, and over 50 years ago spoke out against it, saying, “We are faced at this moment with the horrifying effects of pollution in all its cancerous forms.”

When I think about what King Charles III means as a figure, beyond all the business about his first marriage and the family politics, one of the key things that stands out is that he was a fighter for the environment. This could, for those of us who are worried (and all of us should be) about the climate, make him an ideal monarch, a figure to bring focus to the challenges ahead. Could Charles be the climate king for the crisis we are in?

Perhaps. Except, of course, the point of being the King is that he should put his politics and causes aside. He has already committed to doing this, saying, in his televised address, “It will no longer be possible for me to give so much of my time and energies to the charities and issues for which I care so deeply. But I know this important work will go on in the trusted hands of others.”

Becoming the Greta Thunberg of heads of state is absolutely not what he is supposed to do. Queen Elizabeth, throughout her 70 year reign, made her maintaining of political neutrality almost a defining priority. In 2018, when asked if his meddling in politics would continue on his becoming King, Charles said, “No, it won’t. I’m not that stupid. I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign. So, of course, I understand entirely how that should operate.”

Nevertheless, it’s quite hard to believe that he is going to keep his mouth entirely shut. Only last year, he was telling the world, in a speech at COP26, that we need to put tackling the climate crisis on a “war-footing”, as well as launching a Terra Carta through which companies can sign up to a charter of sustainable actions.

At the time he said, “I have laboured for so many years to bring this issue to international consciousness – not just with words, but with practical action.”

Tony Juniper, who co-authored with him the book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World, has described him as the “most effective environmental campaigner of all time”. Certainly, he has the ears of conservatives in a way that many campaigners do not.

But, even if he speaks less directly on climate and the environment, there are other ways he can get his message and commitment across. Projects like the Queen’s Green Canopy initiative, launched following this year’s Platinum Jubilee to encourage people to plant trees, are still possible.

As King could he not, for instance, now begin the rewilding process at the Balmoral estate that so many have campaigned for? As King, couldn’t he reform the way the monarchy operates here, how it travels – going beyond converting an Aston Martin, as he once did, to run on whey and wine. As King, perhaps could he reduce the fly-bys, private jets and the other wasteful belchings of emissions that come with the pomp of royalty.

Of course, King Charles can never be one of us. There is always going to be a way in which his ownership of vast tracts of land and movements through the world mark him out as the fraction of a percent of the world’s population who create the greatest footprint. Research has shown that the Royal Family have a combined carbon footprint of 3,810 tonnes a year, compared to the average person in this country whose footprint amounts to just 10 tonnes per year, and in fact Charles and Camilla's travel footprint in 2021, at 432.3 tonnes was 56 times more than the Queen's. Within the last year he took more than 20 private flights, including several helicopters – and this, in spite of the fact he reputedly is “allergic” to just hopping in the helicopter.

In the face of this his talk about not eating meat a couple of days a week seems like a minor effort. Would it be too political for him to continue talking about this dilemma? Or would it really be too political for him, as King, to touch on the impact that Britain, and its Empire, has had on creating the fossil fuel driven crisis we are now in?

I don’t think so – but many would, and that’s the problem. Most things we care about, beyond family and the health of those we love, are political.

Many have loved the Queen for her steadfast attention to people, her sense of public service and duty, and for the way, actually, she revealed so little. By never revealing too much, she could remain everybody’s Queen. King Charles can’t do that. We already know what this inveterate “meddler” thinks. He comes with political baggage – if that’s what we call his environmental work – and it’s ridiculous to expect that would now melt away, just at the point in history when we are realising what dire straits the planet is in.

I expect all that will happen is he will become more subtle. King Charles, for instance, doesn’t have to say very much at all for us to note that what matters most to him is an issue little mentioned in the leadership campaign of our new Prime Minister. He doesn’t have to say much for us to know he is bothered by pollution. We know who he is, and there’s no escaping that.

READ MORE: Coal, steam, empire and COP26 : Glasgow's emissions story