Teenage Indian inventor takes Cop26 stage after dazzling Prince William with solar iron

Vinisha Umashankar was invited to address world leaders after being nominated for prince's award

Indian teenager Vinisha Umashankar driving a cart with the solar-powered iron that she designed. PA
Powered by automated translation

A 15-year-old girl who invented a solar-powered iron took centre stage at Cop26 on Tuesday as Prince William introduced her to assembled dignitaries.

Vinisha Umashankar created a green alternative to the charcoal-powered clothes press, a common sight on the streets of India, after learning how they can sicken street vendors and contribute to global warming.

She was the youngest finalist in the British royal’s Earthshot Prize, an award for green innovation that helps people bring their inventions to market.

Although she did not win the prize, she was invited by William to show off her creation at Cop26 and take the stage in front of assembled delegates.

She used the opportunity to plead with world leaders to consider the impact of climate change on young people.

"Me and my generation will live to see the consequences of our actions today," she said. "You are deciding whether or not we will have a chance to live in a habitable world.

"You are deciding whether or not we are worth fighting for, worth supporting and worth caring.

"Many of my generation are angry and frustrated at leaders who have made empty promises and failed to deliver, and we have every reason to be angry. But I have no time for anger. I want to act."

The session in Glasgow was attended by Prince William, US President Joe Biden and Microsoft founder Bill Gates among other dignitaries.

“Vinisha’s example shows that by innovating today, the next generation can create a cleaner tomorrow,” said the prince’s Kensington Palace office.

William said he was hopeful about what could be achieved at Cop26. “I’m proud that our Earthshot Prize finalists will be joining me in Glasgow to show the world that there is reason to be optimistic,” he said.

With five hours of sunshine, the eco-friendly iron – typically driven on a cart around India’s streets – can run for six hours and has a phone-charging station which gives vendors another way to earn money.

It spares them, and the planet, from burning charcoal, a process which can cause lung disease, air pollution and deforestation as well as emitting CO2.

“People don’t realise it but charcoal can cause a lot of damage,” the teenager said in one promotional video for her product.

“Replacing it with solar energy will not only change the climate in this country [India], but the whole world."

Mobile ironing stations are a frequent sight in India, where she hopes to have the cart manufactured for export to other hot countries in Asia and Africa. She has called for India and Britain to work together on green initiatives.

She traces her love of science to an encyclopedia she received on her fifth birthday, Earthshot Prize organisers said.

Her previous accolades include the Children’s Climate Prize in 2020 and an Indian government-backed medal called the IGNITE award.

The children’s prize came with a $12,000 jackpot and brought wider recognition to her idea, she said.

“A lot of people from all over the world have shown their support and love for me and my idea,” she said in March.

Prize winners

The five winners of the Earthshot jackpot, who each receive £1 million ($1.37m) to help develop their ideas, were announced last month.

They included Vaitea Cowan, a green hydrogen pioneer whose company, Enapter, hopes one day to control 10 per cent of the global fuel market.

The city of Milan won one of the awards for a food-waste strategy credited with saving the equivalent of 260,000 meals per day.

An organisation called Coral Vita which grows coral reefs on land to replant them in the ocean was honoured for helping to protect marine life.

A farming gadget that reduces smoke emissions from tractors helped Vidyut Mohan and his company, known as Takachar, to take another of the prizes.

The fifth went to the government of Costa Rica, which paid its citizens to protect trees and forests in a programme which proved highly successful.

William’s father, Prince Charles, has led calls for decisive action at Cop26, having addressed a summit of G20 leaders in Rome on Sunday.

He said he was eventually seeing momentum building behind climate action after decades of campaigning on environmental issues.

Updated: November 02, 2021, 6:14 PM