UK's Prince William unveils finalists for prize with goal to save planet

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Britain's Prince William visit to Everton

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain's Prince William on Friday announced the first finalists for his multimillion-pound environmental prize, which he said he had set up in response to world leaders' uninspiring response to the climate change crisis.

The "Earthshot Prize" was announced by William, Queen Elizabeth's grandson, two years ago with the mission of finding solutions through new technologies or policies to the planet’s biggest environmental problems.

After receiving 750 nominations, an expert panel has whittled them down to 15 finalists before the first five winners, who will collect 1 million pounds each, are announced on Oct. 17.

"The ambition, quality and range of submissions has been amazing, and should fill us all with optimism and hope that our goals for this decisive decade are achievable," William said.

The finalists range from the Pole Pole Foundation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a community-led project to protect gorillas, to the City of Milan Food Waste Hubs in Italy, which seeks to cut waste while tackling hunger.

In an introduction to a book about the prize, "Earthshot: How to Save our Planet," the prince said the facts looked "terrifying."

"Humans have taken too many fish from the sea. We have cleared too many trees, burnt too much fossil fuel, and produced too much waste," William, 39, wrote. "The damage we are doing is no longer incremental but exponential, and we are fast reaching a tipping point."

The prince said he had come up with the Earthshot idea following a visit to Namibia in 2018 and then being "hit by a wave of global pessimism" at climate change talks, which he feared could foster a growing sense of despondency.

"The headlines were dominated by a sense that world leaders were not moving fast enough," he said. "There was widespread finger pointing and political and geographical division. To those of us following at home, it wasn’t an inspiring sight."

William said he was also inspired by his father, Prince Charles, and late grandfather Prince Philip, the queen's husband, who both argued for decades about the importance of conservation and the impact of climate change.

The prize deliberately echoes the ambitious "Moonshot" project of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy's and his goal for the 1969 moon landings.

"I wanted to recapture Kennedy’s Moonshot spirit of human ingenuity, purpose and optimism, and turn it with laser-sharp focus and urgency on to the most pressing challenge of our time – repairing our planet."

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Steve Orlofsky)

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