Prince William unveils 15 Earthshot Prize finalists
Image credit: Kate Middleton/PA
William, Duke of Cambridge, has announced the inaugural finalists of his Earthshot Prize competition. The top projects include a scheme paying citizens to restore ecosystems, a solar-powered ironing cart designed by an Indian teenager, and an operation to grow coral on land to replant in oceans.
The Earthshot Prize is a £50m effort to fund solutions for managing environmental challenges. £1m prizes will go to green projects each year for the next decade in five categories: protecting and restoring nature, tackling air pollution, reviving oceans, reducing waste, and managing climate change.
In its first year, 750 nominations were submitted and narrowed down to 15 by an expert panel.
Speaking in a video message revealing the projects, William said: “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.”
He commented on the need for optimism in climate action, adding: “The ambition, quality, and range of submissions has been amazing, and should fill us all with optimism and hope that our goals for this decisive decade are achievable.”
The 'restore and protect our nature' finalists are: DRC-based Pole Pole Foundation, which runs farming projects to alleviate poverty and hunger in the hopes of preventing bushmeat poaching; Costa Rica, for its scheme paying citizens to protect forests, plant trees, and restore ecosystems; and Switzerland-based Restor, a “Google Maps for nature” which connects activists, funders, experts, and the public with major scientific datasets.
The 'clean our air' finalists are: China’s first public environmental database, Blue Map, which allows users to check local air and water quality and report polluters; India-based Takachar, a start-up which offers portable technology to convert agricultural waste into bioproducts like fuel and fertiliser; and 14-year-old Vinisha Umashankar from Tamil Nadu, who has developed a solar-powered ironing cart.
The 'revive our oceans' finalists are: Coral Vita from the Bahamas, which grows coral on land up to 50 times faster than traditional methods, to replant in oceans; US-based Pristine Seas, which has so far established 24 marine reserves across an area over twice the size of India; and Australia’s Living Seawalls, which provides habitat panels to fit to sea defences, mimicking natural formations like rock pools and mangroves, and supporting marine species.
The 'build a waste-free world' finalists are: the City of Milan’s Food Waste Hubs project to recover food from supermarkets and canteens and work with NGOs to distribute it to citizens in need; Kenya-based Sanergy, which manages solid waste and converts it to fertiliser; and Japanese start-up WOTA, which aims to improve water security by helping people reuse wastewater with the small ‘WOTA BOX’.
The 'fix our climate' finalists are: Enapter – with German, Italian, and Thai contributors – which has developed an electrolyser for turning renewable electricity into green hydrogen; Nigerian company Reeddi Capsules, which offers affordable solar-powered batteries for hire to households; and Bangladesh-based SOLshare, which is the first peer-to-peer energy exchange network.
Although just one winner will be selected in each category to receive prize money, all 15 will receive tailored support to help scale their solutions. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on 17 October.
The prize is the latest effort in the royal family’s recent history of environmental advocacy; William’s father Prince Charles has spoken for decades about sustainability, conservation and climate change. Now, Prince William is establishing himself as a high-profile environmental advocate by making the Earthshot Prize a career-defining project.
A royal aide commented ahead of the announcement that the duke challenged himself to make a “positive personal” contribution to the fight against climate change so that he can “look his children in the eye” and say he had done his bit. In his introduction to the book 'Earthshot: How To Save Our Planet', William wrote: “I wanted to recapture Kennedy’s Moonshot spirit of human ingenuity, purpose and optimism, and turn it with laser-sharp focus and urgency on to the most pressing challenge of our time – repairing our planet.”
The 15 Earthshot Prize finalists
Restore and protect our nature
Based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the POPOF runs farming projects that grow low-cost, nutritious foods to alleviate poverty and hunger in the hopes of preventing bushmeat poaching.
Founder John Kahekwa, a ranger and expert tracker in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, founded POPOF in 1992 after asking a poacher why he poached. The man replied, “empty stomachs have no ears”. This led Kahekwa to find the root causes of deforestation and bushmeat poaching – poverty and hunger.
POPOF helps former poachers gain new skills, teaches importance of conservation, and provides support to park rangers. Four million trees have also been planted.
The Foundation believes winning The Earthshot Prize would help expand their work and secure purchasing agreements with the Global North to develop new products that help protect gorillas.
Back in the 1990s, the vast forests of Costa Rica were devastated to half their former size. To combat this, the country’s Ministry for Environment created programmes that paid citizens to protect forests, plant trees, and restore ecosystems. The forests doubled in size and, in turn, boosted ecotourism, contributing $4bn to the economy.
The Costa Rican government, which believes 30 per cent of the Earth’s land and oceans could also be protected this way, is now taking the approach to urban areas. Winning the Prize “would help it share knowledge and practices globally, especially in the Global South”.
Like a ‘Google Maps for nature’, Restor is a free online platform for the restoration movement, which connects activists, funders, experts and the public with major scientific datasets, meaning local knowledge can help ‘fuel global change’.
Dr Thomas Crowther, founder of Restor, believes only a fraction of nature restoration projects have lasting impact, and small-scale efforts can feel futile in the face of global ecological crises.
Yet since launching this year, Restor has connected more than 50,000 restoration sites worldwide. Winning will help the platform “transform how we protect and repair the planet”, and local actions can “become a global movement”.
Clean our air
Blue Map is China’s first public environmental database, which allows users to check local air and water quality and report polluters in real time.
Tens of thousands of micro-reports have been filed by Blue Map users (10 million downloads) against polluting factories – some of the largest emitters in China have been motivated to openly address their violation records. Because of Blue Map, Beijing is making efforts to no longer be part of the 200 most-polluted cities in the world.
By demonstrating the power of transparency and accountability, the ambition for Blue Map is to “empower synergised air pollution and carbon emission reduction in China and then globally”.
This Indian start-up offers portable technology to convert agricultural waste into bioproducts.
Globally, $120bn of agricultural waste is generated every year, and farmers often burn what they can’t sell. Burning agricultural waste causes air pollution and can reduce life expectancy by a decade. In New Dehli, from where Takachar founder Vidyut Mohan hails, this waste burning occurs every year.
To combat this, Takachar developed a cheap, small-scale, portable technology that attaches to tractors in remote farms. The machine converts crop residues into sellable bio-products like fuel and fertiliser and reduces smoke emissions by up to 98 per cent.
If scaled, it could cut a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
Vinisha Umashankar of Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, has developed a solar-powered ironing cart, which is a clean alternative to charcoal-powered street irons that cater to millions of Indians daily.
After seeing that iron vendors dispose of their charcoal straight into the garbage, 14-year-old Vinisha began researching the impact of charcoal on humans and deforestation, which led to the creation of the solar-powered cart. Five hours of sun powers the iron for six hours, and extra mobility means vendors can sell on doorsteps and the roadside, as well as offer phone charging points for extra income.
Vinisha plans to manufacture the solar ironing cart in India, sell it at an affordable price, and export it to Asia, Africa and “wherever the sun shines throughout the year”.
Revive our oceans
Hailing from the Bahamas, Coral Vita grows coral on land up to 50 times faster than traditional methods to replant in oceans.
Ocean warming and acidification are set to destroy over 90 per cent of reefs by 2050, meaning death for a quarter of marine life, and disaster for a billion humans who depend on the reef’s benefits.
Coral Vita also works with local communities, public officials, and private companies to improve education, job prospects, and “build a model to inject more funding into environmental protection”.
A single farm could supply coral for an entire nation, and if it wins the Earthshot Prize, Coral Vita envisions a network of such farms in every nation with reefs.
In 2008, Dr Enric Sala, National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence, founded the Pristine Seas global ocean conservation programme.
With the aim to protect 30 per cent of oceans by 2030, US-based Pristine Seas has helped establish 24 marine reserves across an area twice the size of India. Winning would scale its conservation mission, “help educate a new generation of leaders, and transform economies”.
Living Seawalls, a flagship programme of the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, has developed habitat panels to mimic natural formations and support marine species.
After two years, Living Seawalls (which are placed in four Australian cities and shorelines in Wales, Gibraltar, and Singapore) have 36 per cent more marine species than flat walls.
Living Seawalls says the Earthshot Prize would support new research, educational programmes and sites across the globe.
Build a waste-free world
Launched in 2019 with the aim of halving waste by 2030, each Food Waste hub recovers food from supermarkets and companies’ canteens and gives it to NGOs who distribute it to the “neediest citizens”.
Milan is the first major city to enforce a food-waste policy and has three Food Waste Hubs, each recovering about 130 tonnes of food per year. Milan has “created a blueprint that can be scaled throughout the world” with help from the Earthshot Prize.
Kenya-based Sanergy has developed locally built, cost-effective dry toilets that offer a clean and affordable alternative to sewers.
Sanergy removes 20,000 tonnes of waste per year and its organic fertiliser and insect protein for animal feed boosts farming volumes by up to 30 per cent. Over the next five years, the founders want to repurpose five million further tonnes of waste.
This start-up aims to improve water security by helping people reuse wastewater.
The WOTA BOX is the only solution of its kind, turning more than 98 per cent of water waste into clean, fresh water. It can be delivered at scale and installation requires no existing infrastructure.
Winning would help expand operations across the world, while lowering costs.
Fix our climate
Enapter’s AEM Electrolyser technology turns renewable electricity into emission-free hydrogen gas and already fuels cars and planes, powers industry, and heats homes.
Funding from The Earthshot Prize would help scale mass production (planned for 2022), while growing the team faster. By 2050, Enapter wishes to account for 10 per cent of the world’s hydrogen generation.
Nigerian company Reeddi Capsules offers affordable solar-powered lithium batteries for households to rent for $0.50 a day, cutting energy costs by 30 per cent.
Monthly, the company already provides clean electricity to over 600 combined households and businesses. Funding from the Prize would help it reach 12,000 households per month in 2022.
Bangladesh-based SOLshare’s SOLbazaar is the first peer-to-peer energy exchange network. Homes with a solar panel sell excess electricity into a microgrid network.
SOLshare’s 72 grids have helped 7,500 people in remote communities, and energy trading has boosted some incomes by 25 per cent. The Earthshot Prize would help expand its reach and business line.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.