Sci and Tech Editor, Daniella Southin, discusses the various winners and finalists of the first Earthshot Prize
The Earthshot Prize, a prize that provides funds and celebrates those working to protect the environment, announced its first ever winners; 5 governments, start ups or individuals who have contributed to preserving the natural world.
The awards were attended by Prince William and Sir David Attenbourgh, as well as the 15 finalists, chosen from over 750 nominations, who went through a rigorous selection process overseen by a panel of 10 industry experts. Earthshot chose this Expert Advisory Panel to create a longlist of innovators, including the likes of Melati Wijsen, who at 12 years old became an ‘Indonesian changemaker’ by founding Bye Bye Plastic Bags and later YOUTHTOPIA, a ‘youth empowerment platform.’ The panel also included Amazon Rainforest expert and Earth System scientist Carlos Nobre and National Geographic explorer Malaika Vaz. Together, this panel chose three finalists for each of the five Earthshot sections; Protect and Restore Nature, Clean Our Air, Revive Our Oceans, Build A Waste Free World and Fix Our Climate, with each winner receiving £1 million to ‘help support and scale [their] innovations.’
The Protect and Restore Nature award was won by the Republic of Costa Rica for their environmental work that has doubled the size of Costa Rican rainforests – which were reduced in size by half in the 1990s due to severe deforestation. They have achieved this monumental milestone through ‘programmes [that] paid citizens to protect forests, plant trees and restore ecosystems.’ Their success could prove vital in reducing global warming and maintaining biodiversity as with their winnings, they hope to ‘share [their] knowledge and practices globally.’
The Republic of Costa Rica was up against the Pole Pole Foundation working to reduce the poaching of bushmeat in the Democratic Republic of Congo by simultaneously tackling issues of ‘poverty and hunger,’ which often fuel such killings, as well as deforestation. They were also against Restor, an online platform that has connected ‘over … 50,000 restoration sites’ across the globe and is packed with ‘ecological data’ to aid their efforts.
The three finalists for the first ever Clean Air Prize were Blue Mapp App, Vinisha Umashankar and the prize winner Takchar. Takchar is a social enterprise developed for its ability to reduce smoke emissions on New Delhi farms by 98%. This is through the development of their ‘cheap, small-scale, potable technology’ that creates fertilizer and fuel from crop residue. This technology helps to improve air quality that is negatively impacted by the burning of agricultural waste, and Earthshot predicts that it has the potential to ‘cut a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.’ In a country where life expectancy has decreased by five years as a result of poor air quality, this would not only aid the environment but also the health and wellbeing of locals.
Despite being beaten by Takchar’s technology, Blue Mapp App is another innovative technology that allows its ’10 million users’ to track some of China’s environmental issues, such as water and air quality, in real time. By creating ‘micro reports,’ the app has put pressure on China’s factories and companies to change their environmentally destructive practices. Change is also being enticed by Vinisha Umashankar, who has developed a solar powered ironing cart that she believes could replace the charcoal powered irons that are widely used in India, in turn improving air quality and reducing deforestation.
Coral Vita took home Earthshot’s Revive Our Oceans Prize for its work to restore the coral reefs of the Bahamas. Developed by Gatar Halpern and Sam Teicher, Coral Vita grows corals on land at a speed ‘50 times faster than traditional methods,’ which are then planted on ocean floors. With the help of their £1 million prize they would like to see the project expand to every area where reefs need protection.
Just missing out on the prize are Pristine Seas and the Living Walls project. Pristine Seas was nominated for their extensive ocean preservation and activism worldwide including the establishment of ’24 marine reserves’ and their goal to protect ‘30% of our oceans by 2030.’ The Living Walls project, however, approaches our oceans differently, instead focusing on the lack of biodiversity in our flood defences in the face of rising sea levels. Unlike typical flat sea walls, living sea walls ‘mimic natural formations like rock pools and mangrove roots,’ already seeing ‘36% more marine species’ in just two years.
The first recipient of the Build A Waste Free World prize was the Food Waste Hubs in Milan. With food waste contributing up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, these food hubs are an innovative idea that will help reduce this impact of climate change by saving the equivalent of 260,000 meals a year as well as fighting ‘food insecurity.’ Through the enforcement of a ‘city-wide food waste policy’ the food hubs have the potential to be implemented worldwide, something the Earthshot prize could help to make a reality.
Up against the City of Milan Food Hubs was Sanergy, which is aiming to tackle the ‘sanitation and waste management crisis… unfolding across the developing world.’ This is through their ‘locally built, cost effective dry toilets’ where the collected waste is turned into agricultural inputs such as fertilizer which ‘boosts farming volumes by 30%,’ thus aiding the local community and economy. WOTA also received its status as an Earthshot finalist by tackling the ‘water stress’ crisis that is predicted to affect almost 40% of people worldwide. They are doing so through their WOTA Box, which creates fresh water from waste water at a rate ‘over 50 times more efficient’ than regular treatment plants.
The prize for Earthshot’s Fix Our Climate section went to Enapter’s AEM Electrolyser, a type of hydrogen technology that is already providing renewable energy to ‘cars,’ ‘planes,’ and ‘homes.’ With the possibility of accounting for ‘10% of the world’s hydrogen generation,’ the AEM electrolyser could be vital to cleaning up the 70% of energy that is still produced by non-renewables.
Enapter’s AEM Electrolyser beat the other Fix Our Climate Finalists Reddi and SOLbazaar. Reddi is a ‘clean tech startup’ that provides solar powered energy to some of the ‘600 million’ people in Africa who struggle with unreliable electricity, by renting out a lithium battery for just $0.50 a day. Reddi and Enapter were also faced by SOLbazaar’s innovative SOLshare which allows those with extra energy produced by solar panels to sell it to a ‘microgrid network.’ From this network, locals can buy the clean energy and reduce or eliminate their use of wood and coal and therefore, reduce their carbon emissions.
For its first year, Earthshot has managed to find an extensive list of worthy winners and finalists worldwide, each of whom are contributing to conservation, climate crisis and environment battle in their own unique way. With each section calling to action the rest of the world, Earthshot are celebrating and rewarding these finalists with the funds to progress their ideas and further contribute to this important work. It is an inspiring prize that could have an inspiring impact.
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