LONDON — Prince William on Thursday announced the establishment of an environmental prize worth 50 million pounds, or $65 million, that will reward climate change solutions over the next 10 years, saying it was an effort to “turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism.”
Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist behind dozens of documentaries chronicling the planet’s biodiversity, has joined a council overseeing the prize and helped promote its launch through promotional videos and joint interviews with William.
William said the “Earthshot Prize” was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s launch in 1961 of a decadelong research program, “Moonshot,” to send the first person to the moon.
It will comprise five awards of 1 million pounds each for each of the next 10 years, centered on “earthshots,” or goals — fixing the climate, cleaning the air, protecting and restoring nature, reviving oceans, and tackling waste.
“We have to have a decade of change, a decade of repairing the planet so we can hand it on to the next generation and future generations,” William said, adding that he didn’t want to “let down” his children by not acting.
“They don’t want to inherit a world that is full of doom and gloom,” he said.
The prize joins a long list of distinctions aimed at rewarding initiatives to tackle climate change. Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, promised to donate $500 million last year to close every coal-fired power plant in the United States.
William launched the prize through the Royal Foundation, which supports charitable initiatives engaged in by him and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. It will be supported by a network of donors that include the Aga Khan Development Network, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Jack Ma Foundation, among others.
The Royal Foundation declined to offer additional information on the amount offered by each donor funding the prize and did not say whether the British royal family would be donating any of its own money to the award.
In addition to Attenborough, other high-profile figures have also joined the prize council, including Christiana Figueres, the former United Nations climate chief, actor Cate Blanchett, Brazilian soccer star Dani Alves and Colombian singer Shakira.
The prize comes amid growing concerns over climate change worldwide. Droughts have intensified in regions like the Middle East and Africa, and many areas keep registering their hottest months on record — September was just the latest example.
Wildfires and heat waves are expected to increase, and rising sea levels are set to affect hundreds of millions across the world as experts predict that by 2050, the Arctic’s ice could melt entirely in the summer.
Scientists have also predicted that global warming could trigger the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen and warned that it might be too late to reverse the course of climate change.
William said that although the planet was at a tipping point, he hoped that the prize would encourage innovators to find solutions quickly.
“If we don’t get our act together in the next 10 years, by 2030, it’s too late,” he said. In an interview with the BBC announcing the launch of the prize, William said it was time for him to campaign for the environment the way his father, Prince Charles, has long done.
“I’ve always listened to and learned and believed in what he was saying,” William said about his father’s long-standing commitment to environmental causes such as organic farming and finding alternatives to plastics.
The inaugural recipients of the prize will be announced next year in London and could include individuals or groups of people, businesses, cities and countries, the Royal Foundation said.
Attenborough told the BBC that he hoped that there would be many applications for the prize, even those with “crackpot ideas.” In a tweet, he called it “the most prestigious environment prize in history.”
Experts say that tackling climate change requires changing people’s behaviors and, most important, galvanizing political will.
“We found over 190 billion pounds’ worth to fix and help the recovery through COVID,” William told the BBC about the British government’s spending on the pandemic as he announced the creation of the prize. “We can do the same for the environment. It really isn’t that difficult.”