The University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute will offer $50,000 in prizes to students who produce ideas to reduce the impact of climate change through a new competition called the Climate Leadership Challenge.

“Right now there is no program to create incentives for low-carbon energy technologies,” said Greg Nemet, assistant professor of public affairs and environmental studies at UW. “There is a lot of enthusiasm for doing something that we haven’t taken full advantage of. The idea of the project is to create an early stage award for some really talented people.”

Project coordinator Josh Ghena said the competition is based off of the “X Prize,” a competition that rewards competitors for achieving goals that benefit humanity.

Ghena said he spent a lot of time researching competitions at other universities before settling on the idea of a competition seeking projects that promote a sustainable future.

“The idea of the climate challenge is fairly unique,” Ghena said. “People involved in policy and making decisions see this as a really creative and unique opportunity for students. There are a lot of people excited about this.”

Both graduate and undergraduate students are invited to submit a program, policy or product to participate in the competition.

The entries will be judged based on three tiers that are determined by whether the submission will have a statewide, national or international reach.

“We tried to get a lot of buy-in from the university as well as the private sector,” Ghena said. “We’re hoping by offering large cash prizes and also the opportunity to meet and present your ideas to people of substantial importance we can get the highest quality of ideas.”

Ghena said the majority of the $50,000 in prize money is funded by a grant from the Global Stewardship Society. Of that, $20,000 is allotted for the winner while the remaining $30,000 is distributed to other proposed projects worthy of funding.

Finalists will go on to present their entry at Monona Terrace April 22 after which a panel of judges will select an overall winner.

Nemet said the competition will be an effective tool in inspiring interdepartmental collaboration.

“This is an ideal place because you’ve got a lot of people working on the frontiers in a lot of different areas, but also with the Wisconsin Idea there is a focus on turning these early ideas into action,” Nemet said.

The competition will be hosted by the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, a department within the Nelson Institute that examines the relationship between natural resources, human health and security along with changes in the global environment.

Students interested in participating are invited to a meeting today at 5:30 p.m. in 140 Science Hall. Submissions are due by April 10.