Around three-quarters of people in the UK and two-thirds of Americans consistently say that they are worried about climate change. Prince William is certainly worried—but he isn’t just standing around wringing his hands. In 2020, he launched the Earthshot Prize, a name inspired by John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot. The second year’s prizes have just been awarded in Boston.

Repairing a planet

Kennedy’s Moonshot aimed to put someone on the moon within ten years—and succeeded, thanks to a vast and organised effort. The Earthshot Prize is similarly ambitious. It aims to find the solutions that will repair our planet this decade. The prize offers a total of £50 million in prize money, with £5 million to be awarded each year from 2021 to 2030. This will be shared equally between the winners in five different categories, including build a waste-free world, clean our air, fix our climate, protect and restore nature, and revive our ocean. 

The £1 million prize money for each winner will be used to support environmental and conservation projects agreed with the winners. The idea is that their solutions will be widely publicised, scaled up and spread around the world. In other words, the Earthshot Prize is not entirely a reward for work achieved to date. Instead, it is a recognition of potential, and a support for future activity that could just change the world. 

How does the Earthshot Prize work?

The Earthshot Prize has set out a five-stage process for finding, nominating and assessing potential projects. The stages are:

  • Search, which involves partner organisations and individuals looking around the world for ‘breakthrough’ solutions that may help to solve the world’s biggest environmental problems;
  • Select, which involves a rigorous and careful process to assess the solutions discovered, and identify the ones with the biggest potential impact;
  • Accelerate, which is around helping the finalists to scale their ideas through a specially designed programme;
  • Award, where fifteen finalists and then five winners are selected across the five categories; and
  • Scale, which involves introducing the Earthshot winners to funders, businesses, and advisers who will help them to grow.

Qualified nominators

The prize has 349 Nominators in 66 countries around the world. These include 196 non-profit organisations, 94 academic institutions, and 46 private companies, as well as partnerships, individuals, agencies and public companies. These Nominators have been selected for their expertise and their leadership in tackling climate change. Their role is to search and scan the globe for potential nominees. 

The process for considering potential nominees has five stages, each focused on a particular area or issue. The first stage looks at the type of solution, and particularly whether it focuses on prevention, restoration or adaptation. The second filter looks at diversity, aiming to get a broad range of nominees. The third examines the stage of the project, and particularly whether it has been tested in the field, and is therefore ready for scaling. The fourth stage checks whether the solution is inspiring, inclusive and impactful—because these are the ideas that will best spread. Finally, the fifth stage looks at four cross-cutting issues, including leveraging data, leveraging new financial and legal mechanisms, being led and informed by women and indigenous groups, and wildcards, the magical solutions that might just disrupt everything.

The story so far: the first two years

In 2021, 759 nominations were received, across more than 86 countries. This year, there were more than 1000 nominations. It is perhaps too soon to quantify the impact of this year’s prize, because it was only awarded a few weeks ago. However, last year’s winners may provide some clues about how the prize money might be used.

The City of Milan Food Waste Hub won in the category ‘Build a waste-free world’ last year. Since then, the initiative has opened two new hubs in Milan itself, and expanded its network to school canteens and food markets. It has doubled the size of its operations, and is also helping other cities. The prize money has therefore enabled expansion and active support of others. The Republic of Costa Rica, winner of ‘Protect and restore nature’, has also expanded its operations, including extending its marine reserves to 30% from 3% of its marine area, and is now seen as a leader of the global environmental agenda.

Will the Earthshot Prize change the world? It’s perhaps too soon to tell—but the evidence is that it has a very good chance of doing so.