Story and History

About the Prize

The Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity is a manifestation of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s commitment to put sustainability at the heart of everything it does.

First awarded in 2020, the Prize rewards individuals and organisations who are leading society’s efforts to tackle the single biggest challenge facing humanity today: climate change. 

With an award of €1 million, the Prize recognises outstanding contributions to climate action and climate solutions that inspire hope. It tells a story of possibility – showing us that we can build a better and more sustainable future.

This is a Prize for Humanity, which puts people at the centre and celebrates human ingenuity in developing solutions to climate change. This is not a Prize that solely rewards technical innovation – it also rewards action by individuals, networks and organisations for the benefit of both humanity and nature.

USDA, Climate Visuals. Solar Power Water Pump, USA

Humanity and nature

The Foundation recognises that people, nature and the climate are part of one joined-up ecosystem that supports life on earth. We cannot exist without nature. We depend on it for the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. At the same time, nature shapes and is shaped by the climate. Through our actions, we have disrupted the balance of nature and caused global temperatures to rise.

Protecting and restoring nature – including the land and the sea – are critical for tackling climate change and for human survival. A flourishing natural world provides solutions for storing carbon and for reducing the impacts of global warming where these cannot be avoided. Humanity needs to find solutions for climate change which do not threaten the natural world.

The Prize shows how people are at the heart of the solutions we need and celebrates how they are taking action now.

Many of the solutions are already available today, and benefit people and nature in so many ways – improving health, equity, justice, biodiversity, and livelihoods while increasing resilience and accelerating the transition to a clean energy future. 

Honouring a legacy

The Prize honours the work and intentions of our founder, Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian. When he died in 1955 at the age of 86, Calouste Gulbenkian was the richest man in the world. Much of his fortune had been made from Middle East oil. Today we all know the damage that the oil industry has caused to the planet, but at the time, it was seen as an emerging technology offering huge benefits over coal. Coal mining was a physically demanding job that caused life-long health problems for the people working in the pits – oil extraction was much easier. Coal produced soot and dirt – oil was seen as cleaner.

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian

Calouste Gulbenkian was a business architect – a convener and coalition builder – establishing and maintaining relationships with partners around the world. He did not see himself as an ‘oil man’. Never tied to a single country, he travelled the world exploring his joint passions for art and nature.

Like other businessmen of his time, Calouste Gulbenkian saw philanthropy as his duty. The Foundation he established continues this work, set up to, in his words, “benefit all of humanity”, and today under the Board’s direction is prioritising sustainability and equity in everything it does.

As Calouste Gulbenkian realised, individuals can only have impact by working together. His success came from managing and balancing the competing interests of different groups – bringing them together and making them stronger than the sum of their parts.

To help humanity transition to a carbon-free world, we need everyone to come together and work towards this common goal.

The Prize rewards those who are bringing the world together and setting the path for us all to follow. 

Read more about the Foundation’s work on climate and ocean.



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