The Duke of Cambridge has offered a damning indictment of space tourism, warning that the “world’s greatest brains” should be focused on repairing the planet rather than “trying to find the next place to go and live”.

His comments came as a jubilant William Shatner, 90, stepped out of a rocket in a West Texas desert having become the oldest human to reach space, declaring the experience as “extraordinary” and “profound” while adding: “Everybody in the world needs to do this.”

Prince William, 39, was apparently less dazzled, suggesting that the vulnerable planet was a much more worthy cause of time and investment.

Speaking to BBC Newscast on BBC Sounds, ahead of the inaugural Earthshot Prize award ceremony on Sunday, he said: “We need some of the world’s greatest brains and minds fixed on trying to repair this planet, not trying to find the next place to go and live.”

Prince William discusses the state of the planet with Adam Flemming, the BBC's chief political correspondent, for an episode of Newscast

Credit: Kensington Palace

It comes after the Duke warned in an article published in USA Today that the next generation would ask why man put so much effort into the space race while leaving their own planet “vulnerable”.

Prince of Wales has had a ‘really rough ride’

Prince William also warned that young people were increasingly suffering from “climate anxiety” as they witnessed the “unnerving” prospect of their futures under threat.

He said the current way of life risked “robbing from our children’s future” and urged those taking part in the forthcoming Cop26 climate conference to focus on action rather than “clever speak, clever words”.

The Duke said it would be an “absolute disaster” if his eldest son, Prince George, eight, was still having to campaign about the same issues in 30 years’ time, when it would be too late.

He said his father, the Prince of Wales, had endured “a really rough ride” in campaigning for the environment but had been “proven to be well ahead of the curve” with his early warnings about climate change.

The 35-minute interview, recorded at Kensington Palace, saw the Duke express his concerns on a range of issues relating to the environment.

He said he hoped the Earthshot Prize, a £50 million initiative aiming to promote and fund innovative ways to repair the planet, will “stimulate solutions and action that a lot of people haven’t necessarily produced yet”.

“I’m hoping, you know, the prize will galvanise a lot of people in positions of responsibility to, you know, go further, bigger and actually start to deliver,” he added.

‘We are seeing a rise in climate anxiety’

He said that as a parent, like others, he had started to see the world differently.

“I want the things that I’ve enjoyed – the outdoor life, nature, the environment – I want that to be there for my children, and not just my children but everyone else’s children,” he added.

“If we’re not careful we’re robbing from our children’s future through what we do now.  And I think that’s not fair.”

The Duke went on: “We are seeing a rise in climate anxiety. You know, people, young people now are growing up where their futures are basically threatened the whole time. It’s very unnerving and it’s very you know, anxiety making.”

Last year, Global Action Plan, an environmental charity, reported that a third of UK teachers were seeing high levels of climate anxiety in pupils, while 77 per cent of students said that thinking about climate change makes them anxious. 

Last November, meanwhile, the Royal College of Psychiatrists reported that more than half of psychiatrists treating children and adolescents in England were now seeing young people distressed about the environment.

Looking ahead to the Cop26 summit, which will see world leaders gather in Glasgow from October 31, the Duke said it was critical to “communicate very clearly and very honestly about what the problems are and what the solutions are going to be”.

He added: “We can’t have more clever speak, clever words but not enough action.”

Credit to the Duke of Edinburgh

The Duke gave the credit for the Royal family’s decades-long interest in the environment to his late grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, who he said had introduced them to the issues at stake. 

“My grandfather started off helping out WWF a long time ago with its nature work and biodiversity, and I think that my father’s sort of progressed that on and talked about climate change a lot more, very early on, before anyone else thought it was a topic,” he said.

“So yes, he’s had a really rough ride on that, and I think you know he’s been proven to being well ahead of the curve.

“Well beyond his time in warning about some of these dangers.

“But it shouldn’t be that there’s a third generation now coming along having to ramp it up even more.”

Both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will attend the star-studded Earthshot Prize ceremony, hosted by Clara Amfo and Dermot O’Leary, at Alexandra Palace in London on Sunday.