The Duke of Cambridge's Earthshot Prize hopes to combine the pressing urgency to solve the planet's problems with optimistic answers

By Simon Perry
October 07, 2020 07:01 PM
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Prince William wildlife
Prince William
| Credit: Oxford Film/ ITC

Prince William has a big idea that will govern much of his public work for the next decade: To find and champion ways to tackle threats to the natural world.

The royal's Earthshot Prize, unveiled on the first day of this year, takes flight Thursday as $65 million is earmarked to reward those who are making a difference on climate change and conservation.

William’s ambitious program will see five awards of $1.3 million given each year, promoting at least 50 solutions to the world’s greatest environmental issues before 2030.

The honors, which will be shown off at glamorous events starting in London at the end of 2021, will aim to recognize people, businesses and even countries or cities that have innovative ideas. And, in the words of one aide, make them as “famous” as the returning astronauts of the Kennedy presidency to inspire more to come forward and step up to the challenge.

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough and Prince William
| Credit: Kensington Palace

William believes that while many people recognize that urgent action is required, there's a need to find and herald the tangible solutions that exist or are already being tried.

Alongside TV icon and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the royal heir says in an interview with BBC Radio Four’s prestigious Today program, “I felt very much that there’s a lot of people wanting to do many good things for the environment and what they need is a bit of a catalyst, a bit of hope, a bit of positivity that we can actually fix what’s being presented. And I think that urgency with optimism really creates action. And so The Earthshot Prize is really about harnessing that optimism and that urgency to find solutions to some of the world’s greatest environmental problems.”

Prince William
Prince William and Kate Middleton with children and Sir David Attenborough
| Credit: Kensington Palace

It is something he has been formalizing for about two years. And some of the inspiration stems from his visit to Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania in the fall of 2018 when he met locals doing “incredibly innovative things” in the areas of illegal wildlife trade and the effects of climate change on habitats, an aide says.

He then “first started the conversations that have led to the prize,” the source adds.

Bringing it to the international stage is also a sign of William’s growing confidence, insiders note. He’s not considered to be “the boldest individual,” one source close to him admits. But he can see the “potential of his platform” and has realized that “he has a leadership role to play — and now is the time to play it,” the source adds.

It is likely that William will pair up with his father Prince Charles (Earthshot is partnering with the Prince of Wales’s Sustainable Markets Initiative) in some public outings to promote their joint interest. And William’s wife Kate Middleton, a huge supporter of the same causes, will join him at events too.

Insiders at the palace hope that the prize can be relevant “regardless of whether you’re a global company or a 12-year-old in a classroom in Kenya,” one senior source says.

Prince William wildlife
Prince William
| Credit: Oxford Film/ ITV

Towards the end of next year, there will be the first Earthshot Prize ceremony, in London, heralding an annual event that will take place in cities across the world from then on.

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The Earthshot Prize, which is run by William and Kate’s Royal Foundation, has unveiled its “simple but ambitious goals:” Protect and restore nature, clean our air, revive our oceans, build a waste-free world and fix our climate. Nominations will open on November 1.

CEO of the Royal Foundation, Jason Knauf, says, “What science tells us is this is the decisive make-or-break decade for the planet on climate, preservation of species, the health of our oceans and more are rapidly approaching a number of tipping points. And we know that if we don’t act now, we may find that stopping runaway climate change and destruction of the natural world will simply become impossible.”