Aides have billed it as the most ambitious environmental award in history and an attempt to build international collaboration to save the planet from the worst effects of climate change, pollution, and loss of iconic species, including humans eventually if scientists’ worst fears are realised.
The project, which will see William working closely with his father Prince Charles, is expected to dominate his international work over the next 10 years and come to define him. After listening to much pessimism over the future, he wants to create a sense of optimism and urgency to harness the expertise of business, science, and technology as well as governments to find solutions that save the planet without destroying prosperity.
“The plan is to really galvanise and bring together the best minds, the best possible solutions, to fixing and tackling some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges,” he said in a film to be shown today to help launch the prize.
“We’ve got to harness our ingenuity and our ability to invent. The next 10 years are a critical decade for change.”
William, who on Monday appeared in an ITV documentary that charted his personal journey over the last two years towards becming a green crusader, added: “Time is of the essence, which is why we believe that this very ambitious global prize is the only way forward.”
The £50 million prize fund will be provided by the project’s global alliance founding partners – a group which includes the philanthropic bodies of several billionaires.
Contributors include funds created by the Aga Khan, the family of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Chinese businessman Jack Ma, US entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg, Dubai businessman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, and American internet entrepreneurs Marc and Lynne Benioff.
Prince William is becoming a global environmental champion
William has spent two years working on the project with his Royal Foundation and the seeds of the idea were sown during a visit to Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya in September 2018, when he met frontline conservation workers.
After checking that nobody else including the Nobel Prize committee was doing anything similar, he discussed the idea with a number of individuals including Prince Charles, who has spent all of his adult life campaigning about the environment, and the broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
William and Charles, who has created the Sustainable Markets Initative with the World Economic Forum to encourage innovation and will use that to work with his son, have tried to stress ideas that allow prosperity to continue, pinning their hopes, for example, on new decarbonised fuels that will allow people to continue to fly on business trips and holidays.
But Sir David, 94, told the BBC Radio 5 Live podcast What Planet Are We On? that the standard of living in wealthy countries would have to be paused.
Sir David Attenborough and the Duke of Cambridge discuss the Earthshot prize
“The excesses the capitalist system has brought us have got to be curbed somehow,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean to say that capitalism is dead. I’m not an economist and I don’t know – but I believe the nations of the world, the ordinary people worldwide, are beginning to realise that greed does not actually lead to joy.”
He suggested there was a need for a more equal society, in which “those that have a great deal have a little less”.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, William will say: “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.”
“We believe that this decade is one of the most crucial decades for the environment and by 2030 we really hope to have made huge strides in fixing some of the biggest problems the Earth faces.”
Nominations for the prize open on November 1 with an annual global awards ceremony to be held in a different city each year, starting with London in autumn 2021, until 2030. A team of experts will vet each application.
Jason Knauf, chief executive of the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said: “We’re at the start of what science tells us is a make or break decade for the planet, the decisive decade.
“On climate, preservation of species, the health of our oceans and more we are rapidly approaching a number of tipping points. And we know that if we don’t act now, stopping runaway climate change and destruction of the natural world will simply become impossible.
The project will see William working closely with his father Prince Charles
“I think it’s important to reflect that this isn’t theory any more. We can see the fires burning, we can see it measured in melting of the ice caps, we can count on one hand in some cases the survival of some of the world’s most iconic species. We can feel the hottest temperatures ever recorded and we can feel it again when those records are broken year after year.”
The US Moonshot marked the high watermark of the American century and the Eartshot Prize may come to project British soft power. But William’s advisers insist that, although the British Government supports it, this is William’s initiative and he wants it be truly international.
“Our power to innovate and cooperate 50 years ago put a man on the moon and our power to innovate and cooperate can now save the planet for future generations,” Mr Knauf said.
“The Duke was very clear that this cannot be just about him or just the Royal Foundation,” he added. “The team leading the Prize has to be global and capable of speaking to every country and every community.”