The air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we till for food, the species that form the circle of life should get our keenest attention, but their significance is lost in the consumerist cacophony that swamps us every day. Though genuine environmentalists abound, their voices are often too faint to be heard widely. Not so when one is a royal environmentalist — none other than William, Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne.
Living up to the phrase “put your money where your mouth is”, he created the Earthshot Prize during the pandemic, a time of despair when hope was needed the most. This year, the award — GPB 1 million each for five winners every year; to be given for 10 years, taking the total pot to GBP 50 million — came to Singapore, bringing the prince with it. This year’s winners are Acción Andina, GRST, WildAid Marine Program, S4S Technologies, and Boomitra.
William’s arrival on November 5 was greeted with great enthusiasm by the Singapore public, and the next three days saw a programme organised around raising the bar on conservation and related solutions: United for Wildlife Global Summit (November 6); the Earthshot Prize awards (November 7); and Earthshot+, a talk session (November 8).
United for Wildlife is an entity “created by Prince William and The Royal Foundation in 2014 to protect endangered species from the illegal wildlife trade”, and its “mission is to foster cross-sector collaboration to make it impossible for traffickers to transport, finance, or profit from illegal wildlife products”.
The Earthshot Prize rewards innovators (individuals or groups) in five different areas, each aimed at healing the environment and improving a specific aspect of conservation.
Prevention of wildlife trafficking, to come anywhere close to being effective, requires government-level co-operation on a global scale. Singapore, as one of the main gateways to the South-East Asian region, has been sharpening its laws and penalties to crush these rackets.
The island nation can lead the region, which is otherwise plagued by “the existence of organised criminal networks moving wildlife contraband, poor conviction rates, inadequate laws, and poor regulation of markets and retail outlets” — factors listed in a February 2020 report by Traffic.org.
“Collaboration is so important in our fight to #EndWildlifeCrime which is why the @united4wildlife Global Summit is here in Southeast Asia, one of the regions of the world most affected by sustainability challenges — from our changing climate to the threats faced by nature from the blight of the illegal wildlife trade,” he wrote in a post on the social network X on Monday night, along with a video of moments from the summit.
The post added: “Singapore is a hub for innovators, entrepreneurs, community leaders and problem solvers who are committed to restoring our planet.”
A statement read out by the prince at Monday’s summit indicated that “Singapore, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Britain, and the United States have agreed to work together to combat wildlife trafficking, one of the world’s largest and most profitable criminal activities”, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
Interpol took part in the Singapore summit, and its event report said: “With the black market for illegal wildlife products worth up to USD 20 billion per year, poaching and the illegal wildlife trade has become a major area of activity for organized crime groups and is increasingly linked with armed violence, corruption and other forms of organized crime.”
In the face of this massive menace, Prince William has no easy mission. But he has the soft power to make his message heard wherever he goes, and he conveys this message in various ways.
During his time in Singapore, the British royal walked around some of the greenest spaces on the island with Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, and posted a series of photos on X to express his appreciation. The posts reminded everyone what a gift nature is.
“A pleasure to explore Singapore’s incredible TreeTop Walk with Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong. What a fantastic place that takes you right to the heart of the rainforest, being cared for and protected by a brilliant team doing so much to restore our planet,” wrote the royal environmentalist.