UNEP Names Champions of the Earth 2006

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 23, 2006 (ENS) - A former Soviet leader who now heads an environmental organization and Iran's first female vice president are among seven environmental leaders named today as the 2006 Champions of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

trophy The Champions of the Earth award, a new international environment award established in 2004, recognizes prominent and inspirational environmental leaders. Through leadership, vision and creativity, each has made an impact at the policy level.

No monetary reward is attached to the prize. Each laureate receives a trophy made of recycled metal designed by the Kenyan sculptor Kioko. The trophy represents the fundamental elements for life on Earth – sun, air, land and water.

The 2006 Champions of the Earth are:

The winners will be honored on April 21 at a gala event hosted by UNEP, the Singapore Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and the Singapore Tourism Board, with the support of various sponsors and partners, including the Asia-Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL), the Lien Foundation and Nanyang Technological University.

Other supporters of the ceremony include: CNN Fortune, Time, Eco 4 The World Foundation, the Singapore Environment Council, Channel News Asia, and Today.

The event and the inspiring stories of the Champions will be broadcast across the Asia-Pacific region by CNN and featured in such leading publications as "Time" and "Fortune" magazines.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, thanked the sponsors and the people of Singapore for supporting and hosting the prestigious event.

“I believe that this event comes at an exciting time, where the last 12 months will go down as a period in history when we rediscovered the crucial importance of the environment for our economic, social and spiritual lives,” he said.

“A renaissance in environmental politics and policy does not come in a vacuum. It emerges as a result of the collective efforts of governments, organizations and private business. It needs the long-term commitment and vision of men and women. It needs people who have been and continue to be Champions of the Earth,” said Toepfer.

Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher – Ethiopia

Egziabher Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher has put much of his energy into negotiations to protect biodiversity at the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

He has built a strong group of well-prepared African negotiators who initiated and took the lead in the Group of 77 and China Group. As a result, Africa has come out with united, strong and progressive positions, such as no patents on living materials and the recognition of community rights, which have strengthened the G77 and China’s negotiating positions.

He was instrumental in securing recommendations from the African Union encouraging African countries to develop and implement community rights; a common position on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights; and a clear stance against patents on life. He also guided the drafting of the African Union model legislation for community rights, which is being used as the common model by all African countries.

Tommy Koh – Singapore

Koh Tommy Koh has loved nature all of his life, starting with his long years in the Boy Scout Movement. In Singapore, he is the patron of The Nature Society (Singapore), chairman of the Asia-Pacific Centre on Envirownmental Law, and chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Master's degree on environment management at the National University of Singapore.

At the international level, he has contributed to the protection of the environment and to sustainable development. He was elected to chair the Preparatory Committee for the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, known as the Earth Summit. He chaired the Main Committee at the Earth Summit. Subsequently, the UN Secretary-General appointed him to the High-Level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development.

Koh spent a decade helping to negotiate the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He was elected President of that Conference in its critical final year.

For his contributions to the environment, he was made a Commander of the Order of the Golden Ark by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and received the Elizabeth Haub Prize for Environmental Law from the Free University of Brussels and the IUCN-World Conservation Union.

Mikhail Gorbachev – Russian Federation

Gorbachev Mikhail Gorbachev has been actively promoting environmental awareness and responsibility, especially among political leaders, for well over a decade – long before sustainable development became the central international concern it is today. As President of the former USSR, he made policy changes aimed at halting the worst contamination and destruction in the country, closing thousands of heavily polluting factories and preventing a scheme to divert the rivers of Siberia.

He learned first hand the critical environmental, strategic and social importance of water resources as State Secretary for Agriculture when he was faced with the terrible calamity of the Aral Sea.

This experience led to “Water for Life and Peace” becoming a major focus of Green Cross International, the environmental organization he founded in 1993. Since then, he has been committed to improving water management and access, and, in particular, the prevention of conflicts over shared water –at village and international level.

Gorbachev has encouraged Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians to make shared water a source of cooperation and has engaged in mediation efforts at the highest level.

He has personally supported Green Cross water conflict prevention initiatives in Africa, South America, Central Europe, and in his own native river basin, the Volga. His involvement has been critical to breaking deadlocks and encouraging parties to negotiate.

Most recently, in 2003, he launched a Local and Regional Authorities Water Initiative aimed at strengthening decentralized cooperation and North-South solidarity to provide drinking water for the world’s most desperate people while respecting local cultures and ecosystems.

Dr. Rosa Elena Simeon Negrin – Cuba (posthumously)

Negrin Dr. Rosa Elena Simeon Negrin’s passion for the environment is well documented. Her steadfast, committed and selfless work has been vital for fostering the notion of sustainability and for raising the environmental awareness of Cubans.

She took on a position of leadership, which continued for 20 years, at a time when the issue of environment was beginning to feature prominently in the political agenda of governments and international organizations. She was able to translate the best environmental practices into everyday life in Cuba.

In 1989, she participated, for the first time, in the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose sixth meeting took place in Brasilia that year. Since that time, until her death in 2004, Dr. Negrin played a prominent widely acclaimed role in regional forums.

In addition to directing Cuba’s preparations for the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, she also presided over her country’s delegation. She always had a clear vision of the concept of “thinking globally and acting locally” and she brought this vision to international forums.

In 1994, she participated in the development of the Alliance of Small Island States Summit. By that time she was already an accomplished international mediator and was able to bring the experience that she had gained from her participation in the Rio Summit to bear on that forum.

Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) – USA

Abzug WEDO, established in 1990 by former U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug (1920-1998) and feminist activist and journalist Mim Kelber (1922-2004), advocates for women’s empowerment and gender equality in global policymaking forums, promoting women as decision makers for the achievement of economic, social and gender justice, a healthy, peaceful planet, and human rights for all.

WEDO is a leader in organizing women for international conferences and actions. In the lead up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, WEDO brought together more than 1,500 women from more than 80 countries for the World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet. They produced the Women’s Action Agenda 21, a comprehensive platform they used at the Earth Summit to put women’s rights and gender equality on the official sustainable development agenda for the first time.

WEDO pioneered a Women’s Caucus at the United Nations through which advocates from around the world worked together to gain crucial commitments at the Earth Summit and in other key international development conferences of the 1990s.

Today, WEDO works to ensure that these government commitments are put into action. Even as major global forces - such as privatization of basic services and natural resources, deregulation, increased military spending, religious extremism - are undermining the gains of the past decades, WEDO continues to galvanize the energy and spirit of women worldwide for a healthy and peaceful planet.

Mohamed El-Ashry – Egypt

El-Ashry Mohamed El-Ashry’s contributions to protecting the environment and the wise management of natural resources span more than 35 years, pre-dating the first Earth Day in 1970. His contributions have been made throughout a career that spans academia, public sector institutions, nongovernmental organizations, think tanks and international institutions.

Perhaps El-Ashry’s most significant achievement is his 12-year role in the restructuring, management, and operation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), for which he served as its first Chief Executive Officer and Chairman. Under his leadership, the GEF grew from a modest pilot program with less than 30 members and an $800 million purse to the largest single source of funding for the global environment with 174 member countries.

During his tenure, the GEF allocated $4.5 billion in grants and leveraged $12 billion in additional financing for the global environment, for a portfolio of more than 1,200 projects in 140 developing countries.

In his three terms of service, he mobilized from donor countries a total of $7 billion in three replenishments. The first two consisted of $2 billion each. In 2002, for the third replenishment, donors cast an extraordinary vote of confidence in the GEF by replenishing it with $3 billion.

Massoumeh Ebtekar – Iran (Special Prize)

Ebtekar Massoumeh Ebtekar’s philosophy that sustainable development depends on maintaining the balance between economic growth and environmental concerns is one that the United Nations shares. As Iran's first woman vice-president, she has led efforts to tackle air pollution problems in Tehran and promote the protection of marine life in the Gulf.

Ebtekar has influenced the integration of environmental considerations into the industry and energy sectors in Iran and, thanks to her efforts, clean production technologies and environmental accounting and management systems have been integrated into the country’s petrochemical industry.

Under her guidance, the Department of Environment is working with the government and the private sector to create necessary incentives and economic mechanisms for enhancing environmental awareness and management capacity.

For future Champions of the Earth awards, UNEP invites nominations from individuals 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. Candidates are judged by a senior UNEP panel with input from UNEP’s regional offices.

{All photographs courtesy the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) except Mikhail Gorbachev, courtesy Nevada University Performing Arts Center, and Bella Abzug, photo credit unknown.}