Exclusive: Prince Albert II on how Monaco is pioneering sustainable change from the ground up

Monaco's sovereign tells Tempus about the principality's new sustainable yacht initiative

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Monaco is often associated with the finer things in life, but – as HSH Prince Albert II is determined to point out to the world – finer needn’t mean damaging. The principality’s monarch is on a mission to change its perception from the home of Formula 1 and superyachts – both notoriously environmentally unfriendly – to a major forum for sustainable living, without sacrificing any of that famous Monegasque glamour. From high-profile events such as Formula E, electric racing’s alternative to F1, to localised initiatives such as MonaBike, Monaco’s electric version of the Boris Bike, the principality is already taking massive steps towards its ambitious low-carbon goals.

Monaco has a long history of innovation, particularly in the boating world – the first powerboats meeting was held at Yacht Club de Monaco (YCM) in 1904. Today, some 110 years later, the organisation at the heart of the local yachting industry, the YCM, is taking the lead again. The club was designed to be green inside and out – it’s powered by solar and renewable energies and features state-of-the- art waste, energy and water systems, while visitors can easily plug in and charge their electric cars and boats, when they sail or drive in. The club also hosts initiatives including the Solar & Energy Boat Challenge, an inspiring event that encourages and celebrates the development of green and renewable energy.

Organised in partnership with the International Powerboating Federation (UIM) and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the sixth edition of the event in July saw researchers, academics and industry leaders come together on the French Riviera to showcase and learn about the latest innovations in green yachting across three classes: energy, solar and offshore.

One of the event’s biggest supporters is Marco Casiraghi, an engineer and member of the YCM who found himself increasingly frustrated by attitudes to boating. “A lot of technology exists but is not applied. Why? Sometimes it’s ignorance. Sometimes it’s the fact that brands continue to copy and paste, but there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to save energy without losing comfort,” he told us. “My primary aim is to let the people know that this technology exists and spread the word for a better world and a better future.”

As well as educating and inspiring students and luxury consumers around the world, the competition aims to demonstrate to brands and manufacturers that going electric doesn’t have to mean sacrificing design or comfort. “In the offshore class, there are boats that look exactly like the others, but they are electric,” says Casiraghi. “In fact, sometimes you’re really improving your own comfort. Electric boats are silent with no vibrations, no sound and no smell, and they do not disturb nature.”

Speaking at the opening of the competition, YCM president Prince Albert said: “Recalling something my father said at the launch of the club in 1953 – ‘The future of Monaco lies in the sea” – I would say that today, it is the future of the whole planet that now lies with the sea. At a time of radical technological change, with everything being called into question, it seems essential that the yachting sector does the same. The time for raising awareness must give way to action. It is with this aim in mind, in the wake of an innovation tradition dating back to the first powerboat meetings started in 1904, that we are organising the sixth Monaco Solar & Energy Boat Challenge.”

As Monaco’s reigning monarch – who lives with his wife of eight years Charlene, Princess of Monaco, and their four-year-old twins Gabriella and Jacques – the Prince has an important role to play in the future of the principality and the countries that have long followed its lead. Here, he speaks exclusively to Tempus about his commitments to sustainability and how he’s working to change perspectives of Monaco from being a billionaires’ playground to a pioneer of sustainability.

Monaco seems to be changing from the hub of Formula 1 and motor yachting to a hotbed of sustainable living. Was this a conscious move?
Yes, of course it was a conscious decision. And maybe it’s because Monaco is so famous for its Formula 1 race and the Monaco Yacht Show that we are in the best position to promote Formula E and the Monaco Solar & Energy Boat Challenge. We have the infrastructure already in place and the profile among the media who matter in these two areas. It’s not going to happen overnight but already they are having an impact. The future is in the hands of the next generation – of the 300 participants to the Challenge, at least 200 are students, and they are all so passionate. >>

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Has there been a key moment in your own life that has inspired you to lead the call for action?
One trip in particular made me all the more determined to fight for the environment, and that was to the Arctic following in the footsteps of my great- great-grandfather in 2005. We had a photo taken of me standing where Prince Albert I had stood in front of a glacier over a century ago, and it was frightening how much it had receded. I witnessed the negative impact of our human activities and decided I had to act to protect our planet and its ecosystems. When I came back, I decided to launch my Foundation dedicated to environmental issues on a global scale. Since then we have supported more than 470 projects internationally which makes me proud of the work done.

Where did your love of yachting derive from?
Monaco’s destiny has always been linked to the sea. I grew up listening to tales of my great-great-grandfather Prince Albert I’s expeditions in the Arctic. He was an early pioneer of modern oceanography and a famous navigator. The first sailing regattas were held here in 1862 and in 1953 my father Prince Rainier III went on to found this yacht club as it exists today. He had the vision to create a club that would unite all people who love the sea, and I think he would be very proud of what is being achieved today since we moved into this building in 2014. I have always loved sailing and when I became Yacht Club de Monaco (YCM) president in 1984 my mission was to ramp up the sailing side, that’s when, for example, we started the Primo Cup, a big regatta that today still opens the Mediterranean season.

YCM has just installed electric boat charging points. Is this part of a wider plan to make it more environmentally friendly?
Yes, and this is reflected not only in what we are doing in the Principality – with electric public vehicles, electric bikes, solar heating etc – but also the Zero Emission Challenge at this year’s Monaco Solar & Energy Boat Challenge. Our aim is to minimise the event’s carbon footprint on every level. For example, all the organising boats are to be electric, supplied by Torqeedo. Staff already use electric karts to get around the marina, we’ll have a water fountain and water bottles to reduce plastic waste, and our executive chef at the club focuses on local products. The YCM marina recently invested in the first wooden pontoons, with no tropical wood but carbon-neutral bamboo instead.

We have just announced construction of a Zero Emission Committee Boat for all the regattas organised by the club. Naval architect Espen Oeino has designed the hull and structure, with Dario Calzavara of Terra Modena responsible for the engineering on this 100% eco-friendly catamaran. As it will be quiet with no carbon emissions. It has been designed with a second function in mind: whale watching excursions from the Principality. We are also promoting actions that visitors to the YCM marina should now be doing automatically – without thinking – like using eco-certified products for cleaning, recycling and using harbour waste water pump-out facilities.

What are you hoping to achieve with the Monaco Solar & Energy Boat Challenge?

Then last year we launched the Energy Class. All entrants have the same design catamaran hull and have to devise the cockpit and power system using any energy they like, provided it’s clean. We are delighted to see SBM Offshore with an electro-hydrogen hybrid prototype where the battery has almost achieved a record 80% efficiency. There are eight entrants so both these classes are growing exponentially. The Solar class is also booming – we had 19 entrants this year. This year’s Solar Boat Twente, for example, has a prototype that is 35% more efficient thanks to an innovative propeller design.

In the long term, we hope it will become a major forum for the sustainable propulsion industry for yachting. Starting in 1904, Monaco was at the heart of developments in the combustion engine with the international powerboat races; just over a century later my dream is for this event to take on that mantle – but for clean energies. >>

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How has the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation been involved in the Challenge?
It is a partner alongside the International Powerboating Federation (UIM). This year, we are co-organising the first Monaco Hydrogen Working Group with the YCM, through the Sustainable Yachting Network. We believe hydrogen and fuel cells have a major role to play in the future and this seminar will discuss the potential of having a hydrogen facility here in Monaco. The event is important to the foundation because it’s at the heart of what we do for the marine environment. After all, research at sea relies on expedition ships and the greener they can be, the better. Sport is a good vector to develop innovative sustainable technologies and serves like a lab before implementing them for the civil society.

Do you think electric or solar energy could replace combustion in our lifetime?
It depends on whose lifetime! I do believe a combination of renewable energies – electricity, solar, wind, hydrogen – working together could replace fossil fuels in the not- too-distant future, especially given the progress being made in “smart” energy management technology to optimise their performance. That’s the way the industry is going, as the 10 companies exhibiting at the challenge demonstrate. All are working on sustainable, renewable solutions from every angle.

 

Many of the causes you support have strong links to sustainability or conservation. Why is it so important to you to support these issues?
Because if we’re going to save our planet, we need to be fighting on all fronts, mobilising as many people as possible to gradually change the systems that are destroying it. It is our responsibility and we are running out of time. Global warming is jeopardising the planet’s equilibrium and compromising the future of humanity. Tackling this issue requires a collective and immediate action.

Do you feel celebrity ambassadors have a powerful voice in these matters?
Provided you select a celebrity who reflects the values, mission and objectives of the initiative, then yes, they can have a powerful voice. In an era where social networks are omnipresent, with the capacity to reach millions of people, celebrities can really be held to account if they step out of line. The flip side is that endorsement by the right celebrity ambassador can have a massive impact. Thanks to the Monte-Carlo Gala for the Global Ocean, we have enjoyed the successful involvement of talented celebrities and philanthropists around the cause of marine conservation. On 26 September, the third edition of the gala, our ocean will be again at the centre of the stage, contributing to raise awareness about the threats it is facing.

How do you encourage the people of Monaco to address issues such as climate change?
Where do I start? In the last 15 years, we have implemented so many changes to encourage people to think green. Introducing an electric-bike system and now e-taxis, dropping the price of bus fares and increasing their frequency so buses are now packed. We have a very efficient recycling collection system, we said no to single-use plastic... in brief, we make it easy for people to have the right reflex. I’m particularly happy to see that the Monegasque population is pursuing my commitment to a greener future. It’s not only giving the planet a chance but giving humanity a chance.

Does your family share your passion for protecting the environment?
Yes, they do – wholeheartedly.

What legacy are you hoping to leave behind for your children?
A world that is much more aware of the damage done by mankind to the environment on every level, but which is proactively and passionately involved in reversing that trend. I hope my children will see me as a good example.

The Solar & Energy Boat Challenge returns to Yacht Club de Monaco from 30 June to 4 July 2020. For more information, visit mcsebc.org or yacht-club-monaco.mc

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