Humanity risks irreparably damaging the Earth with climate change, Prince William warned last night.
His dramatic intervention came as Britain recorded its hottest December day and unprecedented wildfires tore across drought-stricken Australia.
William said the Earth was at a ‘tipping point’ and humans had just ten years to save the world.
We can either continue on our present course and ‘irreparably damage the planet’ or use our ‘unique power’ to solve the climate crisis for generations to come, he added. Invoking Nasa’s missions to the Moon, the prince yesterday launched an ambitious ‘Earthshot Prize’ to spearhead a decade of action.
The award, which has been endorsed by Sir David Attenborough, will grant millions of pounds to those who can come up with solutions to global warming.
William’s involvement signals a determination to follow his father Charles’s lead on environmental issues.
Palace officials say he hopes to build a unique coalition of scientists, economists, activists, leaders, governments, businesses, philanthropists, cities and countries.
The Earthshot Prize will celebrate the achievements of five individuals, teams or organisations each year for the next decade. Kensington Palace said William wanted the world to show the spirit of Project Apollo in the 1960s and 1970s.
Nasa’s ‘Moonshot’ missions helped develop innovations such as solar panels, CAT scanners, smoke detectors and advanced water filters. William insisted that the same level of ambition and ingenuity could solve the climate crisis.
‘The Earth is at a tipping point and we face a stark choice: either we continue as we are and irreparably damage our planet or we remember our unique power as human beings and our continual ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve,’ he said.
‘Remember the awe-inspiring civilisations that we have built, the life-saving technology we have created, the fact we have put a man on the Moon. People can achieve great things. The next ten years present us with one of our greatest tests – a decade of action to repair the Earth.’
It is understood that the second in line to the throne consulted his father, who is arguably the Royal Family’s most passionate green campaigner, as well as his grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh.
In previous roles, including president of the World Wildlife Fund, the duke has made significant contributions to the debate on the natural world.
Back in 2001 he said: ‘We can’t make the Earth any bigger and we can’t squeeze any more out of its natural resources without changing its whole character and damaging its systems.’
Sir David, who helped launch the prize yesterday by narrating an online video to mark the occasion, was the first person William discussed his idea with outside of the royal household.
The film was subtitled in seven languages, including Chinese and Spanish.
The veteran broadcaster said: ‘The spirit of the Moonshot can guide us today as we confront the serious challenges we face on earth. This year Prince William and a global alliance launch the most prestigious environment prize in history, the Earthshot Prize. A global prize designed to motivate and inspire a new generation of thinkers, leaders and dreamers to think differently.
‘Visionaries rewarded over the next decade for responding to the great challenges of our time.’
It is hoped that the Earthshot Prize will equal the Nobel Peace Prize within a few years in terms of its significance.
A royal aide said: ‘The picture looks very bleak at the moment, but William was keen harness the optimism that clearly exists throughout the world as well as all that innovation and talent, too. And this doesn’t just apply to big corporations or academic institutions. This is about individuals, school and communities. Earthshot is open to anyone and everyone.’
Details of the award are still being ironed out but five winners will be chosen each year between 2021 and 2030 and recognised at a ceremony held in different cities.
Prince William’s team points to growing concern over rising temperatures and over the pressures on nature, biodiversity, the oceans, air pollution and fresh water.
The prizes will reward those who have found solutions in what the palace says is a push for ‘fresh optimism and action’ to replace the ‘current pessimism around the environment’.
The prize will be funded by private donors and by William and Kate’s Royal Foundation, the umbrella organisation for the couple’s charitable work.
Already more than 60 organisations and experts have been consulted to develop the prize.
Colin Butfield, executive director of the World Wide Fund for Nature, welcomed the initiative, saying: ‘Advances in science, technology and global communications mean we now know with astonishing detail what happens if we don’t reverse the damage to our planet.
‘But what if we use those same advances to change direction? In just ten years we can go from fear to hope, from disaster to discovery and from inertia to inspiration. The Earthshot Prize challenges us all to make this the decade that we build a future to be proud of.’
Dr M Sanjayan, chief executive of Conservation International, added: ‘We have a very small window – ten years – to jolt earth onto a path of sustainability.
‘It can sound terrifying – or it can sound like one of history’s greatest opportunities.
‘Yes, the challenges are daunting. But how we react is still, in this sliver of time left, entirely up to us – and that is what the Earthshot Prize is all about. It’s about this opportunity in front of us, right now, to choose to put our energies toward taking action and uncovering solutions, to choose to create the future we want over settling for the one that we fear.’
Like his father, he is determined to make his mark: RICHARD KAY sees Prince William picking up the baton of environmental campaigning from Prince Charles
Exactly 20 years ago, Prince Charles was refining plans for Poundbury, his experimental new town in Dorset.
With its integrated mix of housing, shops and businesses, it promised a different kind of urban living. It is five years from completion, but there is every chance it will come to be seen as Charles’ most significant and lasting achievement.
Yesterday, Prince William picked up the baton of environmental progress from his father. The launch of a major international prize to help ‘repair’ the planet could by the end of the decade be judged alongside Poundbury for the breadth of its vision.
The bar has been set high, with the hope that in time the award will match the prestige of the Nobel Prize.
For William, who is instinctively cautious in his announcements, this is a critical intervention. It signals not just his determination to inherit his father’s mantle, but also to stake out a position distinct from Prince Harry, whose own attempts to articulate a stance on climate change have been muddled.
The establishment of the annual Earthshot Prize represents his first serious independent move since he and his brother split their households and charities last year. While his latest initiative undoubtedly owes much to what he has learned from his father, William has embraced the more optimistic outlook of Prince Philip, who pioneered royal concern over the planet’s long-term future more than half a century ago.
William invoked the spirit of the 1960s’ global push to put a man on the moon – a period that resonates hugely with the 98-year-old Duke of Edinburgh.
William insisted it was possible to turn the tide through a combination of the enterprise and ingenuity that were the hallmarks of the Apollo missions.
In turning to Sir David Attenborough, who helped launch the prize, William has been especially canny. Attenborough’s cross-generational support is guaranteed to ensure the Earthshot Prize is not seen as a wishy-washy royal objective but something that really matters.
William is acutely aware of how many of his father’s projects that once seemed faddy – such as his interests in organic food and people-friendly architecture – have proved to be ahead of their time.
He also had a ringside seat as Harry and Meghan’s travel arrangements provoked accusations of hypocrisy. But William is not just the more watchful brother, he is also the more thoughtful one.
Experience has taught him to stick to territory he is familiar with. Two years ago he was criticised for straying, somewhat incoherently, into the debate over the legalisation of drugs. Friends say he was horrified by the reaction and he has been mindful of that ever since.
But on the environment he is on safe ground. William is positioning himself at the forefront of what is likely to be a global coalition to tackle the issue. Prince Charles, whom he consulted, will be happy for the spotlight to pass to his son.
Perhaps William, who has always said he will be a different Prince of Wales from his father, is showing he is, after all, a princely chip off the old block.