William hails young people as ‘shining lights’ in mission to protect environment

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rince William believes if young people should educate older relatives about the damage they cause to the environment it could really “change the tide” and create momentum for climate change. The Duke of Cambridge spoke out during a 45 minutes chat to seven young people named 2020’s Young Champions of the Earth by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). He told them that the campaign to improve the environment had grown hugely, offering a wealth of opportunity to anyone with even a “tiny bit of passion.”

William focused on the need to remain positive, which he explained was the thinking behind his Earthshot Prize, a global award designed to create significant change over the next ten years and which he suggested any one of them could be “in the mix for.” The environmentalists were each recognised for their efforts to create a positive impact in their local communities. As they told the Duke, 36, about their various initiatives, he said he was “hugely honoured” to speak to such “brilliant young people doing such fantastic things.”

The Duke, speaking from his office at Sandringham, asked the group what they had most missed about nature during lockdown, when normal life had been so restricted. Vidyut Mohan, from Delhi, said he missed getting out of the “concrete jungle” for hikes in the Himalayas but noted that lockdown had caused a huge improvement to air and water quality.  “It also taught me to live a lot (more) frugally, using things that I absolutely need instead of using things that I want or want to buy,” he said.

The Duke agreed: “Absolutely, it’s important that that message is communicated amongst everybody – like you said, it’s the needs versus the wants.  “It helps us, with the pandemic, to really refocus our lives a little bit and work out what’s really important to us. “A lot of people are missing that outdoors element aren’t they, and realising how special being outdoors, nature, the environment, and all the green spaces around the world, how precious and important they are to all of us.”

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The Young Champions of the Earth for 2020 include Nzambi Matee (Kenya), Xiaoyuan Ren (China), Vidyut Mohan (India), Lefteris Arapakis (Greece), Max Hidalgo Quinto (Peru), Niria Alicia Garcia (United States of America) and Fatemah Alzelzela (Kuwait).

/ Kensington Palace/PA Wire )

Nzambi Matee, from Kenya, who manufactures sustainable building materials, told the Duke it was hard to change the attitudes of older people, although her grandmother had adopted sustainability easily.

She laughed: “If we can convince my grandmother not to use plastic bags, we can do anything.” The Duke agreed, saying the next generation did not have to start ambitious projects like the seven recognised by the UN to “do their bit”. He added: “If every young person educates their family on the environmental impact they are having, that in turn is making a difference, and changing the tide, and creating that momentum.”

William launched his ambitious GBP50 million Earthshot Prize project in the autumn with his Royal Foundation and it aims to recognise solutions, ideas and technologies that “repair the planet”. UNEP is a global alliance partner of the duke’s project and shares its mission to incentivise change and inspire the public to safeguard the natural world. Among the Young Champions of the Earth are an engineer who turns plastic rubbish into paving stones and an activist fighting to save endangered salmon.

All will receive more than GBP7,000 in seed funding and tailored training to help scale up their ideas. As the group told the duke about their various initiatives during a video call on Wednesday, he said he was “hugely honoured” to speak to such “brilliant young people doing such fantastic things”. He added: “There’s a lot of opportunity in the environmental space.

If young people have a tiny bit of that passion – that you have clearly shown a lot of – then there’s a really good opportunity to find your feet and find a way and do good in the environmental world. “You are the shining lights of that movement and that interest. It allows people to see your path, your journey and go ‘do you know what, I want some of that, I can do that, I’ve got some ideas too.'”

William told the group about his Earthshot Prize explaining that it had been launched to “bring hope and optimism back to the environment debate” and to “try and encourage change through hope and action rather than pessimism and despair”. “Why do you think the optimism part, which I felt very strongly about, is so important?” he asked. Lefteris Arapakis, from Greece, who co-founded an organisation that teaches sustainable fishing, said the pandemic had “changed everything”.

He added: “I am from a family of fishermen and every year for the last 20 years we get less fish, my family has less and less of everything. “Personally, I believe that we can make the change, because if we don’t believe that, we can just give up. It’s our only choice.

Optimism is our main weapon against the climate crisis.”

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