UNEP honours 6 environmental trailblazers as Champions of the Earth

Adeze Ojukwu

The United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) has announced six laureates of the 2020 Champions of the Earth award.

It is the UN’s highest environmental honour for commitment and service for environmental protection.

The Champions were chosen for their transformative impact on the environment and their leadership in urging bold and decisive action on behalf of the planet and its inhabitants.

In a statement, the agency’s Head of News and Media, Keishamaza Rukikaire, since its inception in 2005, the annual Champions of the Earth award has brought visibility and validation to some of the world’s most dynamic environmental leaders, from pioneering scientists and captains of industry to heads of state and community activists.
The awards celebrate inspirational and motivational examples of the potential of individual and collective action to change the world.

Congratulating this year’s laureates, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said ‘in the middle of a global pandemic, with societies struggling, economies stretched to their limits and an escalating biodiversity and climate crisis, we need to act boldly and urgently to repair our relationship with nature and take the path of sustainable development.’

‘Each year, the UN honours these environmental champions for their leadership and vision. Their efforts confront the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.’

UNEP’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen, said this year’s awardees ‘have dug their heels in, faced down adversity and taken on the immense challenge of working to protect and restore our environment.’

‘They not only inspire us, they also remind us that we have in our hands the solutions, the knowledge and the technology to limit climate change and avoid ecological collapse. It is time for us all to act for nature.’

This prize is the UN’s highest environmental honour, annually recognizing outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector.

The honorees ‘inspire, defend, mobilize and act to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time,’ he added.

This year’s awards  recognise laureates in the categories of Lifetime Achievement, Inspiration and Action, Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision and Science and Innovation.

The recipients include Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, honoured in the Policy Leadership category for his global climate action work and his commitment to climate-responsive national development.

Dr. Fabian Leendertz of Germany, was honoured in the Science and Innovation category for his discoveries in zoonotics and his work in One Health.

Mindy Lubber of United States of America(USA), was recognized in the Entrepreneurial Vision category for her commitment to turning capital markets green by mobilizing top investors and companies and making the business case for climate action and sustainability.

Nemonte Nenquimo of Ecuador, was awarded in the Inspiration and Action category for her leadership and unifying work with indigenous communities that halted drilling in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest.

Yacouba Sawadogo from Burkina Faso, was also honoured in the Inspiration and Action category for teaching farmers his traditional nature-based solution to regenerate their soil and turn barren land into arable land and forest across Africa.

This year’s champions are joined by Professor Robert D. Bullard (USA) who was awarded the Champion of the Earth Lifetime Achievement award for his commitment and service to environmental justice.

‘By amplifying news of the significant work being done on the environmental frontlines, the Champions of the Earth awards aim to inspire and motivate more people to act for nature.’

According to the agency, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Champions were announced online, on the cusp of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which starts in early 2021.

‘The awards are part of UNEP’s #ForNature campaign to rally momentum for the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Kunming in May 2021, and catalyze climate action all the way to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021.’

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

Champions of the Earth recognizes outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector.

Since its inception in 2005, the Champions of the Earth award has recognized 95 laureates including 24 world leaders, 57 individuals and 12 organizations.

Past laureates include, among others, former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, the climate change youth movement Fridays for Future, marine biologist Sylvia Earle, American statesman Al Gore, and the National Geographic Society.

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