A wave of global pessimism and finger-pointing has made people want to give up on saving the planet, the Duke of Cambridge has warned, as he says the public must swap despair and anger for a “can-do spirit”.
The Duke, writing the foreword to a new book about his Earthshot Prize, said the “too negative” global debate about the environment had left the public frightened and despondent.
In a personal manifesto, he urged readers to see beyond the “terrifying” facts of climate change and remember not to give up.
The Duke will announce on Friday the first 15 nominees of his inaugural Earthshot Prize, created to find positive ways to solve environmental problems and awarding £50 million over the course of a decade to those who can help.
Writing about his own Damascene moment in 2018, he told how he witnessed “optimism and determination” on the ground among the conservationists of Namibia, only to return to the UK to find “despair and anger” about the climate change agenda.
He writes that in the lead-up to COP24, that year’s UN Climate Change conference in Poland, he was “hit by a wave of global pessimism.
“The headlines were dominated by a sense that world leaders were not moving fast enough.
“There was widespread finger-pointing and political and geographical division. To those of us following at home, it wasn’t an inspiring sight.”
Saying he understood the mood, with the “immense” challenges facing the planet seeing scientists warn the world is entering the most “consequential decade in history”, he added: “The facts look terrifying, and I could see that this risked making people feel like they might as well give up.
“The global debate felt too complex, too negative, too overwhelming.
“It seemed to me, and this is backed up by my team’s research, that there was a real risk that people would switch off; that they would feel so despondent, so fearful and so powerless, there was a risk that any real hope of progress would come to a halt.”
Saying that urgency combined with pessimism had created despondency, the Duke acknowledged that he too had felt it, along with his father and grandfather, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Edinburgh, who he called “pioneers in the environmental movement”.
“Following in their footsteps, I have seen people all over the world face what seem like insurmountable challenges yet come together with collective ambition, and a can-do spirit, to find solutions to them,” the Duke writes.
His own contribution to the problem, which formulated as he felt “horrified by the cliff edge the scientists were predicting yet determined not to give up”, is the Earthshot Prize.
Of his team’s search across the globe to find the most useful way he could contribute, he said: “I wanted to make sure that whatever I did was collaborative and complementary, had widespread support, and would have the impact that was needed.”
The prize is likely to be seen as the Duke’s lifetime project, like his father’s Prince’s Trust or grandfather’s Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.
Jason Knauf, the chief executive of the Royal Foundation, said that, in devising the prize, the Duke had set himself the challenge of how to make the “maximum positive personal contribution in the next decade”, to mean “I can look my children in the eye and say that I did my bit”.