The royal shared his thoughts exclusively with PEOPLE after his successful inaugural Earthshot Prize ceremony: "This is just the start" 

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Prince William is speaking out about his hopes for the future of the planet.

"The urgency of the situation can't be overstated," William tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's cover story following the inaugural Earthshot Prize ceremony. "But through the Earthshot Prize, I want to show people across the world why there is reason to be hopeful."

Two years in the making — and inspired by President John F. Kennedy's famed 10-year goal of landing on the moon (known as Moonshot) — the Earthshot Prize aims to promote impactful approaches to the world's most pressing environmental challenges.

"Seeing the incredible solutions that have been developed by the first winners of the Prize — and all of our finalists — shows us that the answers are out there," says the Duke of Cambridge, 39. "By recognizing these efforts and supporting and scaling them to be the best they can be, we can inspire the confidence that a healthier, more sustainable future is within our grasp."

earthshot exclusive behind the scenes photos
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the inaugural Earthshot Prize ceremony.
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Royal Foundation

For more on the Earthshot Prize and William's mission, along with exclusive backstage photos, pick up a copy of this week's PEOPLE, on newsstands on Friday

At the end of the hour-long ceremony on Sunday, which saw five groundbreaking projects anointed with an award of $1.3 million each, William announced that the next ceremony will be in the U.S.

For more on what Prince William told PEOPLE about his Earthshot initiative and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

"This is just the start," the Duke tells PEOPLE. "I'm thrilled that in 2022, The Earthshot Prize will be heading to the United States, where we will continue to spread this vital message of urgency, optimism and action."

The week's PEOPLE cover story also features an exclusive series of candid behind-the-scenes photos taken by Getty's royal photographer Chris Jackson. Among others, they show William taking a last-minute look at his speech and Kate Middleton heading out into the lights of the stage at Alexandra Palace.

earthshot exclusive behind the scenes photos
The Duchess of Cambridge backstage at the Earthshot Prize ceremony.
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Royal Foundation

Jackson tells PEOPLE that the Duchess, 39, "obviously felt really proud with what William had achieved with this project. It was a really special evening."

The Earthshot Prize Ceremony, with  Emma ThompsonEmma WatsonDavid Oyelowo and Mo Salah among the presenters and Ed SheeranShawn Mendes and KSI and Coldplay performing, can be viewed on discovery+. William's five films in the Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet series are also on discovery+