The Earthshot Prize

Wednesday, 15th January 2020

Jo Coles

edu costa rica squirrel monkey in rainforest

At the start of the New Year, the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge announced a new initiative that aims to tackle the global climate crisis. The Earthshot Prize is a new award that was applauded by Sir David Attenborough as the ‘most prestigious environmental prize in history’, in the hopes of inspiring and encouraging innovative new solutions to tackling the challenges of a changing climate.

The ‘Earthshot’ term draws from the original 1960s concept of ‘moonshots’, which saw a race amongst the brightest and best to achieve the ambitious and seemingly impossible goal of a lunar landing. Since the 1969 success, the phrase ‘moonshot thinking’ has become synonymous with talking about revolutionary and ground-breaking strides in technology, creative thinking for problem-solving, achieving the impossible, and believing anything is possible. The original moonshot challenge led to a spiral of myriad associated advances in technology including MRI scanners for hospitals, satellite dishes, etc. and so it is hoped that the Earthshot challenge will also have a snowball effect of triggering unexpected advances and solutions. Given the current global climate crisis, with record-breaking temperatures, extreme weather, wildfires, etc it is an apt term to apply Earthshot to a desire to solve some of the greatest problems the planet faces.

Five people every year for the next decade will be awarded the Earthshot Prize, in the hopes of finding at least 50 solutions by 2030 to current major issues. This includes access to energy, biodiversity and conservation, ocean quality, air pollution, climate, access to fresh water, etc. Prince William’s statement acknowledged that Earth is ‘at a tipping point’ and that we face a stark choice to “either […] 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… People can achieve great things.”

The award will be launched officially later this year with the first awards from 2021 and is open to individuals, as well as communities and businesses. He is calling the next ten years a ‘decade of action to repair the Earth’ and as such there will be a series of ‘Earthshot challenges’ that will be set this year, with the goal of finding solutions to major problems. Different challenges shall be set across the world, aiming to have an impact on different communities globally.

Useful links:

Suggested activities for students:

Have your students draw up a list individually of the ten biggest environmental and social problems facing the world today (encourage them to be specific, not too broad and generic e.g. what particular aspects of ‘climate change’ or who does this impact, etc. Encourage them to think of a particular location or group of people that an environmental issue is having an impact on. Then collate these as a group or a class. Discuss the different challenges listed and why students chose these. Using an activity such as the Diamond 9 or ranking continuum lines, ask students individually to rank and prioritise which specific issues they feel need solutions first. You can follow this up by then dividing the class up, and having students tackle one issue in pairs and trying to find a potential solution.

Think local, take action. Ask students to consider their school environment. In pairs, have students try to create achievable solutions to environmental problems on site. If possible, test these solutions in real life and make recommendations to school leaders and governors for how the school community can contribute on a small scale to the Earthshot challenge.

Give students an Earthshot Challenge card that you have created (or use the suggested list below). Ask them to write a justification (based on research) for why this issue is a particular challenge, what is causing the problem, a specific location in the world and / or group of people who face this problem, and suggest ways that this problem could be tackled. e.g…

  • Improve ocean quality and reduce marine pollution
  • Improve equal access to clean freshwater
  • Reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce pollution from energy sources
  • Reduce the number of catastrophic wildfires and subsequent habitat loss
  • Reduce the impacts of melting permafrost
  • Eradicate single use plastics entering water sources and landfill

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