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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Koser

How Climate Prizes Can Spur Innovation and Imagination to Tackle Global Warming

The Nobel Prize, perhaps one of the oldest and most well-known prizes, has been acknowledging achievements and research for over 100 years. Prizes might seem outdated to some, but they are an effective and often overlooked tool for igniting progress, rejuvenating existing industries, creating opportunity, and incentivizing breakthrough solutions to humanity's challenges.

With the climate crisis undeniably becoming humanity's greatest challenge of our era, the Nobel Prize in Physics recognized and awarded research that helped scientists better understand climate change in 2021.

But it's not just the Nobel Prize that's turning its sights to climate research and innovation.

In the last few years, there has been an uptick in the number of climate prizes and prize organizations. The Keeling Curve Prize started in 2018, the Earthshot Prize was introduced in 2020, and the Verizon Resilience Prize launched in 2021, just to name a few.

Climate prizes help incentivize climate leaders, entrepreneurs, and organizations with the resource they often need the most: money. They also unlock our imagination to unseen solutions taking place all over the world. We have ideas for solar panels and microgrids in the U.S., but what about finance-based solutions or transport and mobility solutions that are making marginalized communities with fewer resources more resilient? These are important sectors that aren’t getting as much enthusiasm, but prizes can provide a launching pad for these solutions to gain visibility, support, and other crucial resources.

What makes the Keeling Curve Prize different from other climate prizes?

"We need all solutions and we need a lot of innovation in climate, so mechanisms such as the Keeling Curve Prize are essential." - Nate Aden, Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)

Since 2018, the Keeling Curve Prize has catapulted from a low-profile program to one of the most sought-after prizes in the climate community with an ever-expanding ecosystem of innovative problem solvers. Part of the credibility of the prize comes from its sophisticated focus on what works using scientific criteria without overlooking any one project based on area or scalability alone. Just because carbon filtration technology, for example, can’t do the job alone doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.

“Reflecting the highly competitive nature of the KCP, the application evaluation and selection process entails extensive application reviews and rigorous shortlisting discussions among the KCP's team of expert analysts and members of the GWMP Advisory Council.” - Aven Satre-Meloy, Research Scientist at Berkeley Lab

The prize has identified, evaluated, and generated support for a broad spectrum of solutions including clean technologies, transportation innovations, green finance solutions, AI products, reforestation programs, solar power products, blue carbon restoration systems, and more. The visibility and recognition that comes from winning the prize has launched some climate organizations into partnerships with corporate giants like Google, Mercedes-Benz, Lululemon, and Virgin Air.

“When it comes to climate, social movements and financial mechanisms go hand-in-hand with tech and environment-focused solutions. I’m proud that the KCP accounts for not one, but five, of the highest impact areas of climate strategy because ultimately, they depend on each other to work,” says Jacque Francis, Founding Executive Director of the Global Warming Mitigation Project.

Since 2018, the prize has awarded $1.75M to 60 different climate projects and programs across 109 countries. Past winners and finalists of the Keeling Curve Prize are among some of the most impactful innovators in the climate space. Laureates are projected to reduce 3.27 gigatons of CO2 emissions this year alone, based on self-reported calculations.

There has never been a greater need for climate innovation and imagination than today. With the help of climate prizes, we can incentivize the most promising solutions to tackle the biggest existential challenge of our era.


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