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Prince William launches Nobel-style environmental Earthshot Prize

Written by on 8 October 2020

Prince William has said it would be “a mistake” not to use his position to help the environment, and that he’s ready to take on any criticism and have uncomfortable conversations if he can bring people together.

The Duke of Cambridge was talking to mark the launch of his ambitious Nobel-style environmental award, with a GBP50m prize fund, to recognise and celebrate ideas and technologies that can target the climate crisis.

William said the Earthshot Prize was about “harnessing that optimism and that urgency to find solutions to some of the world’s greatest environmental problems”.

Every year from 2021 until the end of the decade, winners in five categories will each receive GBP1m after being picked by a judging panel of William and leading figures, to be announced later, from the worlds of sport, the environment, entertainment, business and philanthropy.

Talking about his family’s involvement in environmental campaigning, he described his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, as a “trailblazer” and praised his father’s commitment to the climate crisis over many years.

When asked if he was concerned that he would face the same criticism as the Prince of Wales for being too political on the issue he said: “I think with all things in life if you are willing to make a difference you have to put yourself out there and you have to commit yourself and be determined and maybe go places that you might feel uncomfortable, other people might feel uncomfortable, but really for me the prize is about bringing people together.

“It’s a team prize and if we can really harness everyone’s ability to come together and tackle the Earth’s biggest environmental problems then I think the prize is the right way of doing it because you’re rewarding, you’re incentivising and you’re encouraging.”

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Asked if he was ready for people to challenge him, he replied: “Of course, absolutely. I’m sure people will challenge it or question it and the more debate we have about that, we welcome that.

“Like I said, this is a team prize so if there are people out there who think they can do it better, they can help, then please come onboard and we’d love that.”

The winners could be individuals, a group of scientists or activists, businesses, governments and even a city or country.

They will be recognised for new ideas, technologies, policies or solutions which tackle one of the five Earthshots: Protect and restore nature; Clean our air; Revive our oceans; Build a waste-free world; Fix our climate.

The GBP50m prize fund will be provided by the project’s global alliance founding partners, a group that includes philanthropic billionaires.

The Earthshot Prize takes its inspiration from the Apollo moon landings, nicknamed Moonshot, which led to a whole host of technological achievements.

Prince William hopes the award will inspire the same spirit of excitement and ingenuity, with the winners being celebrated globally like returning astronauts.

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Despite his desire to bring a sense of optimism to the debate, he said it was difficult at times to stay positive when talking to his children about it.

William said: “I think to be perfectly honest I’m struggling to keep the optimism levels going with my own children, and that’s really kind of like a self… an understanding moment where you kind of look at yourself and go ‘am I doing enough on this?’

“Are we really at this stage in life when I can’t be hugely optimistic and pleased that my children are getting so into nature because you kind of worry and dread they’re soon going to realise that we are in a very, very dangerous and difficult time in the environment and that as a parent, you feel you’re letting them down immediately.”

Describing one particular moment with Prince George he said: “So, having watched so many David Attenborough documentaries recently with my children, they absolutely love them, the most recent one – the extinction one – actually George and I had to turn it off, we got so sad about it halfway through.

“He said to me ‘you know I don’t want to watch this anymore’.

“Why has it come to this and you know he’s seven years old and he’s asking me these questions already, he really feels, it and I think every seven year old out there can relate to that.

“So, I really feel from an emotional point of view as well I think every parent, everyone wants to do the best for their children, and I think we have to have a decade of change, a decade of repairing the planet so that we can hand it on to the next generation and future generations and sustain the prosperity for their lives too.”

The award will be a major focus of the duke’s work over the next 10 years and is likely to be seen as a career-defining project, like his father’s Prince’s Trust or grandfather’s Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

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William has spent two years working on the project with his Royal Foundation. He was especially spurred on to come up with an ambitious global project after a visit to Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya in autumn 2018, where he met front line conservation workers and those from local communities.

He discussed the idea with a number of individuals including his father as well as broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.

Nominations for the prize open on the 1 November with an annual global awards ceremony to be held in a different city each year, starting with London in autumn 2021.