LONDON — Costa Rica and the city of Milan on Sunday were among the first to be awarded one million pounds, or nearly $1.4 million, for their sustainability and conservation efforts as part of a newly established environmental prize presided over by Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
The award, known as the Earthshot Prize, gives funding to nominees developing solutions in five areas: nature conservation, waste management, ocean revival, air quality and climate change.
The ceremony comes as climate change is top of mind, ahead of a United Nations summit meeting in Glasgow this month that will gather an estimated 20,000 delegates from nearly every country in the world to discuss how to mitigate the impact of climate change. Organizers of the new prize are hoping it will become the most prestigious in the field, an ambition evident at the award ceremony held at Alexandra Palace in north London, a glamorous affair with high-profile attendees that was broadcast on the BBC and Discovery’s Facebook page.
The singer Ed Sheeran, the band Coldplay and the British rapper Olajide William Olatunji, better known as KSI, performed. Coldplay’s performance was electrically powered by some 60 cyclists. Presenters of the awards included the actors Emma Watson, David Oyelowo and Emma Thompson and the Egyptian soccer player Mohamed Salah. A short film included messages from world leaders such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who all vowed to address environmental issues.
David Attenborough, who gave the opening remarks, warned that “the actions we choose or choose not to take in the next 10 years will determine the fate of the planet for the next thousand.”
Inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 “moonshot” address to Congress, during which he announced his goal to put a person on the moon within 10 years, the prize is intended to incentivize action around key environmental challenges the world faces over the next decade.
“We are alive at the most consequential time in human history,” Prince William said in a video shown during the ceremony. “This is the decisive decade. Time is running out. Many of the answers are already out there.”
Many of the winners said the prize money would help expand their efforts or allow them to share their work so that it could be replicated in other places.
“What we have achieved in this small country in Central America can be done anywhere,” President Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica said in an acceptance speech. “We will continue recognizing nature as our most valuable asset.”
More than 750 nominations were submitted from over 200 organizations for the Earthshot Prize, which began accepting applications in November. Submissions were screened in a process run by the accounting firm Deloitte before being reviewed by an expert advisory panel of scientists, climate policymakers and academics, according to the Earthshot Prize’s website. A council of high-profile judges — among them the actress Cate Blanchett, Queen Rania of Jordan and the Chinese businessman Jack Ma — selected the five winners out of 15 finalists.
Run by the Royal Foundation, a charity supporting Prince William and Kate, five prizes will be awarded each year to help solve environmental issues by 2030. Next year’s ceremony, Prince William said on Sunday, will be held in the United States.
Among the finalists for the prizes were groups working to protect endangered animals, organize public databases around local water and air quality, and make solar power accessible. The youngest finalist, 14-year-old Vinisha Umashankar, invented a solar-powered ironing cart.
Short-listed nominees will be offered support and opportunities to achieve their ambitions through the Global Alliance, a network of organizations including the United Nations and the World Wildlife Fund, according to the Earthshot Prize’s website.
“They’re all building optimism by finding innovative and brilliant solutions to the world’s challenges — and they all give us hope, which we are told springs eternally,” Mr. Attenborough said. “But we don’t have eternity. We need to do this now — and over the next 10 years.”