Up close with Prince William's Earthshot Prize winners, finalists

The winners show climate solutions could be just around the corner.

November 04, 2021, 1:25 PM

Eshrat Waris called just attending the COP26 climate summit and meeting Prince William in Glasgow, Scotland, this week an "out of body experience." Being handed money to advance her solution for climate change as a finalist for the Earthshot Prize took it to another level.

"The fact that we're in the room means that -- I hope to God -- they unlock that money because there are solutions like the 15 Earthshot finalists have shown," Waris told ABC News. "But that financing that has been promised since Paris, I hope to God in Glasgow gets delivered and unlocked for all of us because these solutions are going to be game-changers."

The 34-year-old from Bangladesh was one of 15 finalists for the prince's inaugural Earthshot Prize. Each of five winners received 1 million pounds, or about $1.38 million, in financial support, but every finalist received some funding to scale their climate change solutions.

Waris was honored for a smartmeter that allows people to sell excess solar energy developed by SOLshare where she is the director of product and business development.

Sam Teicher, who was one of five winners as part of his company, Coral Vita, echoed Waris' emotions, saying, "It's the honor of my life that Prince William knows our company, knows our name."

PHOTO: Britain's Prince William, center, and Michael Bloomberg, 2nd right, stand with Earthshot Prize winners and finalists at the COP26 UN Climate Summit, in Glasgow on Nov. 2, 2021.
Britain's Prince William, center, and businessman Michael Bloomberg, 2nd right, stand with Earthshot Prize winners and finalists Vidyut Mohan for Clean Air, left, Vaitea Cowan for Fix our Environment, 2nd left, and Sam Teicher for Revive our Oceans at the Glasgow Science Centre, right, at the COP26 UN Climate Summit, in Glasgow on Nov. 2, 2021.
Alastair Grant/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Acknowledging the global scale of COP26, Olugbenga Olubanjo, a finalist from Nigeria, told ABC News, "I'm very sure it's going to unlock opportunities for us. ... It sets us on the global stage."

The three honorees who spoke to ABC News were optimistic and determined to bring climate change to an end.

"Failure is not an option when it comes to solving for climate change," Teicher said.

He also pointed to the world's response to the pandemic as an example of the power we harness to create change.

"You saw during the COVID lockdowns that governments can unlock incredible amounts of funding to restructure societies," Teicher said. "So the argument that there's not enough money to fund climate change action is now underscored by the fact that the cost of inaction is so much greater than paying the bill right now, while then also creating all these opportunities through new solutions."

And while the group said it was humbled and honored to be working with Prince William, the finalists said they were also amazed by Prince Charles.

"We had the opportunity to meet Prince Charles the other night, and I honestly was very surprised and pleasantly blown away by how much this man knows," Waris said.

"He got so excited," Waris added. "He was actually grabbing the CEOs and saying, 'Hey, come over here. Like, these guys, like, you need to finance them right now.'"

PHOTO: Children's Climate Prize 2020 winner and finalist for the first Earthshot Prize. Vinisha Umashankar of India, addresses a session on clean innovation and technology at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Britain, Nov. 2, 2021.
Children's Climate Prize 2020 winner and finalist for the first Earthshot Prize. Vinisha Umashankar of India, addresses a session on clean innovation and technology at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Britain, Nov. 2, 2021.
Robert Perry/EPA via Shutterstock

The finalists and winners met for the first time in person and were featured at a leaders' event on Tuesday where William gave a speech.

The youngest finalist, 15-year-old Vinisha Umashankar from Tamil Nadu, India, joined the prince on stage and addressed world leaders including President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"I'm not just a girl from India, I'm a girl from Earth," Umashankar said.

Umashankar reached the final rounds of the prize for her invention, which replaces India's traditional charcoal-powered roaming ironing carts with ones powered by solar energy.

"We won't wait for you to act," Umashankar added in her speech, earning her a standing ovation. "We will lead even if you don't. We will act even if you delay."

ABC News' Bruno Roeber and Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report.

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