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The environmental prize is likely to be seen as William’s career-defining project, like his father’s Prince’s Trust or grandfather’s Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, and reflects his growing confidence on the world stage.
Taking inspiration from former US president John F Kennedy, William said on Friday: “Over half a century ago, president Kennedy’s ‘Moonshot’ programme united millions of people around the goal of reaching the moon.
“Inspired by this, the Earthshot Prize aims to mobilise collective action around our unique ability to innovate, problem solve and repair our planet.”
The 15 finalists have been selected from more than 750 nominations worldwide.
They include a gorilla conservation project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Costa Rica for a rainforest revival scheme, an effort to restore dying coral reefs in the Bahamas and a solar-powered ironing cart invented by 14-year-old Vinisha Umashankar in India.
Also shortlisted are a tiny water treatment plant in Japan that turns 98 per cent of wastewater into clean water, an initiative in Milan that has cut food waste and a solar energy project in Nigeria.
The five winners will each receive £1 million and be revealed at a ceremony at Alexandra Palace in London on October 17 — just weeks before the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.
The awards will be judged by the duke and a panel including Sir David Attenborough, actress Cate Blanchett and Queen Rania of Jordan. The winners could be individuals, a group of scientists or activists, businesses, governments and even a city or country.
The announcement of the finalists comes after two years of work by William and the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to develop a project which will support the global effort to protect and restore the environment.
The seeds of the idea were sown during a visit to Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya in autumn 2018, when he met frontline conservation workers and those from local communities.
The prince added: “I am honoured to introduce the 15 innovators, leaders, and visionaries who are the first ever finalists for the Earthshot Prize. They are working with the urgency required in this decisive decade for life on earth and will inspire all of us with their optimism in our ability to rise to the greatest challenges in human history.”
Every year from 2021 until 2030, the Earthshot Prize will reward those coming up with innovative ideas in five key categories described as the “Earthshot goals”.
These are: Protect and restore nature; Clean up our air; Revive our oceans; Build a waste-free world; and Fix our climate.
The Earthshot Prize Finalists for 2021 are:
Protect and Restore Nature:
Pole Pole Foundation, Democratic Republic of Congo - an inspiring community-led model of conservation that protects gorillas and local livelihoods.
Costa Rica - a pioneering scheme paying local citizens to restore natural ecosystems that has led to a revival of the rainforest.
Restor, Switzerland - a ground-breaking online platform connecting and empowering local conservation projects.
Clean our Air:
The Blue Map App - China’s first public environmental database enabling citizens to hold polluters to account.
Takachar, India - a pioneering technology to create profitable products from agricultural waste and put a stop to the burning of crops.
Vinisha Umashankar, India - a 14-year-old innovator and activist who has designed a solar-powered ironing cart with the potential to improve air quality across India.
Revive our Oceans:
Coral Vita, Bahamas - cutting-edge breakthrough in coral farming that can restore our world’s dying coral reefs.
Living Seawalls, Australia - innovative and replicable seawall panels bringing marine life back to coastal sea defences.
Pristine Seas, USA - an unprecedented global conservation programme protecting 6.5 million square km of the world’s ocean.
Build a Waste-Free World:
The City of Milan Food Waste Hubs - a city-wide initiative that has dramatically cut waste while tackling hunger.
Sanergy, Kenya - a sanitation solution that converts human waste into safe products for local farmers.
WOTA BOX, Japan - a tiny water treatment plant that turns 98 per cent of wastewater into clean water.
Fix our Climate:
AEM Electrolyser, Thailand/Germany/Italy - an ingenious green hydrogen technology developed to transform how we power our homes and buildings.
Reeddi Capsules, Nigeria - solar-powered energy capsules making electricity affordable and accessible in energy-poor communities.
SOLbazaar, Bangladesh - the world’s first peer-to-peer energy exchange network in a country on the frontline of climate change.