Prince William and Sir David Attenborough launch green 'Nobel'

The Duke of Cambridge and Sir David launch the biggest environmental award ever.

By Justin Rowlatt • bbcnews
Oct. 8, 2020 9 minSource

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough today launched what they hope will become the "Nobel Prize for environmentalism".

With £50m to be awarded over a decade, the Earthshot Prize is the biggest environmental award ever.

The idea is to give publicity and funds to what organisers describe as "amazing people" with "brilliant innovative projects to help save the planet".

The Earthshot Prize will make five awards of £1m each year for 10 years.

In an exclusive interview with BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, the Duke of Cambridge said he hopes the prize will inject some positivity into the effort to tackle environment issues.

"I think that urgency with optimism really creates action," the Prince told Nick Robinson.

"There's a lot of people wanting to do many good things in 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", he said.

These "Earthshots" are intended as "universal goals to repair our planet by 2030" and will cover five categories: climate, oceans, air pollution, waste and biodiversity.

Who and what is eligible?

Prince William and Sir David say they want to hear from anyone who thinks they've spotted something that could really make a difference to the environment.

"We hope that this Earthshot Prize reaches everyone around the world," the Prince told Radio 4.

"From communities, schools, right up to banks, governments, corporations - anyone and everyone is a part of this and anyone could find the solutions that we need."

Even suggestions that "may sound crackpot" are welcome, added Sir David, so long as they have the potential to make a difference on what he called "the world scale".

The hope is that the prize will encourage people to come up with original and unexpected suggestions.

The organisers say the aim is to find "new solutions" that improve living standards globally, particularly among those communities most at risk from climate change.

Prizes could be awarded for new technologies, new ways of doing things or new policies: basically any new ideas to help tackle the five global challenges the prize has identified.

And applications can come from anyone.

The organisers say an individual, a group, a team or a collaboration could win a prize. They could be from community groups, scientists, activists, economists, leaders, government, banks, businesses, cities and even countries.

Why Earthshot and why now?

The Earthshot name was chosen to echo the so-called Moonshot: the huge US project to get the first humans to the Moon back in the 1960s initiated by President John F Kennedy.

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough believe a similarly focused effort - but this time global - is needed now to tackle environmental issues.

"By 2030, we really hope to have made huge strides in fixing some of the problems on Earth", Prince William told Nick Robinson.

The need for action to repair the damage human beings have done to the environment has never been more important, Sir David warned.

"Suddenly we actually see the writing is on the wall," he told Radio 4.

We are already seeing the coral reefs dying, forests disappearing, the North Pole beginning to melt, he said.

"People can see it's happening and it is a matter of great urgency now."

Sir David said the aim is that the prize will give ideas "that strength, that financial impetus to spread and be developed".

Nominations will open on 1 November 2020 with an annual awards ceremony to be held in a different city each year, starting with London in autumn 2021.

The £1m on offer is designed as an incentive for people to apply, but don't think you can book yourself a Caribbean holiday or buy yourself a Lamborghini if you win, the rules are that the pot for each Earthshot must be spent on developing your idea and trying to get it taken up around the world.

Prince William and Sir David will be joined on an Earthshot Prize Council by celebrities from the worlds of entertainment, sport, business, charity and the environment. They will act as ambassadors, giving publicity to the prize and its winners and helping motivate people around the world to environmental action.

And Earthshot is backed by a coalition of individuals, businesses and organisations who will help maximise the impact of prize-winners' ideas.

Why has the Duke of Cambridge backed the project?

Prince William said he aimed to take up the baton from his father, Prince Charles, who has long been an advocate for action on environmental issues.

"I feel right now it's my responsibility", he told Nick Robinson.

He said he believes we are "at a tipping point" and the prize is about trying to hand the planet on to his children and grandchildren "in a better state than we found it."

Nick Robinson quoted Prince Charles in an earlier Today Programme interview saying sometimes his ideas on the environment were regarded as a bit "dotty".

He asked the Prince: "Was there a time when even you, I wonder, thought, what's my father banging on about?"

The Duke of Cambridge replied: "I regularly wonder what my father's banging on about. I'm sure every son thinks the same.

"He's talked about this for a long time and long before people sort of cottoned on to climate change. So, I've always listened to and learnt and believed in what he was saying."

"I think the dotty person now would be the person who doesn't believe in climate change," the Prince added.

"Do you have a sense of how this fight can go on when you're no longer here?" Mr Robinson asked Sir David, who celebrated his 94th birthday in May.

The broadcaster said he believed there has been a global change in attitude to environmental issues.

These days people don't just see it as a "cranky, harmless interest" but as "a life and death issue."

"The disaster we are facing is on a scale that has not been seen since mankind existed," Sir David said.

Why a prize?

Prince William and Sir David Attenborough have set themselves the dizzyingly ambitious goal of "repairing the planet by 2030".

So where will the potentially planet-saving ideas they want come from?

The answer is we just don't know - you might have an idea that, with a bit of publicity and cash, could reshape our world.

Which is why awarding prizes can be so effective: we can all apply.

The famous Longitude Prize, is a good example.

It was offered way back in 1714 for the first person who could solve the problem of how to tell your longitude at sea.

Knowing your longitude is crucial for navigation, it measures how far east or west you are, yet Britain's greatest seafarers and astronomers had failed to crack the problem.

The solution came from such an unexpected source - a humble clockmaker called John Harrison - that the authorities refused to grant it for many years.

Prince William hopes that similarly left-field ideas will be submitted for these "Earthshots".

They know there is good evidence that the wider the pool of ideas, the more effective the solutions offered.

Take the online forum InnoCentive. It allows people to post details of problems that are baffling them and offer rewards for crowd-sourced solutions.

A study found the further the problem in question is from the solver's expertise, the more likely they were to solve it.

Which is another way of saying we all might just hold the key to solving an environmental conundrum.

Follow Justin on Twitter.

If you'd like to hear an in-depth interview with Sir David Attenborough, you can download a new BBC Sounds podcast on climate change - which is out today. 'What Planet Are We On?' is presented by the science and natural history broadcaster, Liz Bonnin - it looks at how we live on the planet and offers things we can all do to make a difference. It's available to download now from BBC Sounds.

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