Champions Of The Earth Set an Example for the World

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 13, 2005 (ENS) - A new environmental award recognizing outstanding and innovative leaders was inaugurated Tuesday when seven Champions of the Earth were named by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). No monetary reward is attached to the prize, which is intended to publicize and encourage the worldwide replication of the achievements of the Champions of the Earth.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said the seven awardees have "set the environmental agenda and laid the foundations for the many areas of progress we are able to see and celebrate today."

Candidates were judged by a panel of senior UNEP staff members, with input from UNEP’s regional offices. Selections were made on criteria of creativity, vision and leadership, and the potential of their work and ideas for replication.

The awards - one from each region of the world plus one special award - will be presented on April 19 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to:

Asia and the Pacific
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk and the people of Bhutan have been given the award for the Asia and the Pacific region in recognition of their country’s "commitment to placing the environment at the center of all its development policies and programs." Wangchuk
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk rules the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. (Photo courtesy Laval University)
The judges praised Bhutan’s "excellent environmental track record, with more than 72 percent of its land under forest cover, and 26 percent of this cover designated as protected areas."

The Kingdom’s decision that development should be pursued in a sustainable way is in line with the UN Millennium Development Goals. Bhutan is being recognized for its legislation and policies that ensure the sustainable use of resources, promote community involvement in environmental activities, improve land use planning, and integrate traditional with modern natural resource use practices.

West Asia
The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates receives the award for the West Asia region for his "lifetime work" to protect his country’s environment, and his "widely acclaimed" contributions to agriculture, afforestation and species protection, the judges said. Zayed

The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (Photo courtesy Polish Embassy to the UAE)
Born in 1918, he grew up in the oasis city of Al Ain, and his first 50 years were lived as a nomadic Bedouin. Then oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi in 1958, and Sheikh Zayed became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966.

One of Sheikh Zayed’s most enduring achievements is the greening of the region’s deserts. Under his leadership, 100 million trees were planted, hunting was outlawed more than a quarter of a century ago, and a sanctuary was established on the island of Sir Bani Yas to safeguard such endangered species as the Arabian oryx and the sand gazelle.

This selection of Sheikh Zayed, decided before he passed away last November, comes ahead of the United Nations International Year of Deserts and Desertification in 2006. The presentation of the award, recognizing the late Sheikh’s environmental achievements, will be made to his eldest son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the United Arab Emirates on April 18.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, known in Europe as the Green Patriarch, has taken the lead among religious leaders in his concern for the environment. Patriarch

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in 1997 at another award ceremony, for the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal (Photo courtesy U.S. Congress)
His Holiness, who was born in the village of Aghioi Theodoroi on the Aegean island of Imvros in Turkey, has initiated seminars and dialogues to discuss the need for the mobilization of moral and spiritual forces to achieve harmony between humankind and nature.

Among his many environmental achievements is a series of symposia on the conservation of the seas, as part of "Religion, Science and the Environment," with the latest being "The Caspian Sea - Linking People and Traditions." The symposium aims to encourage understanding and a dialogue between the Christian and Islamic faiths.

President Thabo Mbeki and the people of South Africa have been given the Africa award for the country’s "commitment to cultural and environmental diversity" and its efforts towards achieving the goals encapsulated in the 2000 Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on Sustainable Development Plan of Implementation. Mbeki

South African President Thabo Mbeki took office in 1999. (Photo courtesy Government of South Africa)
Particularly noteworthy are South Africa's achievements in meeting the Johannesburg targets on providing clean water and sanitation, and its world leadership in conservation practices, including "spearheading of the groundbreaking sponsorship of the Peace Parks concept to support cross-border conservation of critically important wild habitats," the judges said.

With the declaration of four new marine protected areas in 2004, South Africa has brought almost 19 percent of its coastline under protection, nearly achieving the 20 percent target set at the Sustainable Development Summit.

As President of South Africa, Mbeki is one of the architects of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, which has a strong environmental component.

Latin America and the Caribbean
Julia Carabias Lillo receives the award for Latin America and the Caribbean for her efforts in coordinating research and rural development programs in impoverished peasant communities in the four regions of Mexico. Lillo

Julia Carabias Lillo of Mexico at the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, The Hague, The Netherlands, November 2000 (Photo courtesy ENB)
The judges also commended her "success in working with different sectors that include government, academia and civil society."

Her appointment as President of the National Ecology Institute, and then, in 1994, as Mexico’s Minister of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries, reflect her achievements, as does her appointment in 2002 as Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility, an independent funding agency.

North America
Sheila Watt-Cloutier receives the North American award for her "contributions in addressing global warming" and in articulating her people’s concerns "in the face of the devastating effects of climate change and its relentless assault on Inuit traditional life," in the words of the judges.


Sheila Watt-Cloutier is chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and a political spokesperson for indigenous Arctic peoples. (Photo courtesy ICC)
The judges also cite her "exemplary contribution to global efforts to eliminate persistent organic pollutants, which pose a particular threat to Arctic peoples and ecosystems."

As president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which represents some 155,000 Inuit people in Canada, the United States, Russia and Greenland, and as vice president of the national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, she is applying her vast experience and knowledge at the international level as a highly effective spokesperson on a wide range of Arctic and indigenous issues.

Special Award
Zhou Qiang and the All-China Youth Federation are given a special award in recognition of Zhou’s "outstanding achievements" as honorary chairman of the Federation and leader of the China Mother River Protection Operation, which mobilized 300 million Chinese youth to protect the environment.


Zhou Qiang addresses a group of university student volunteers on their way to Western China, August 2003. (Photo courtesy ACYF)
The judges praised the Federation as "a very important force for protecting the environment," recalling that it has undertaken 882 afforestation projects covering 191,000 hectares.

The All-China Youth Federation is the only national umbrella organization for youth associations in China. Through its work, exchanges and cooperation in the field of environmental protection have been fostered among young people in more than 50 countries around the world.

Each laureate receives a trophy especially designed by the Kenyan sculptor Kioko and made of recycled metal. The trophy represents the fundamental elements for life on Earth - sun, air, land and water.

UNEP invites nominations from individuals or groups who have made a significant and recognized contribution globally, regionally and beyond, to the protection and sustainable management of the Earth’s environment and natural resources.

Background on the Champions of the Earth prize and all the laureates, including biographies and photographs, will soon be available from