Global environmental movers and shakers receive UNEP Champions of the Earth Awards

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has officially honoured 12 environmental changemakers from around the world with the 2019 UN Champions of the Earth Award and the Young Champions of the Earth Prize.

The awards ceremony, held in New York on 26 September, comes days after UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on the world to take urgent action on climate change and make concrete commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The Champions of the Earth award – the UN’s highest environmental honour – is presented every year to outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment. This year’s awards ceremony recognized laureates in the categories of Inspiration and Action, Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision and Science and Innovation.

President Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica accepted the Policy Leadership award on behalf of his country, which has shown exemplary commitment to the protection of nature and spearheaded ambitious policies to combat climate change.

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Ant Forest, a digital Chinese initiative, won in the Inspiration and Action category. The mini-programme encourages users to record their low-carbon footprint through daily actions like taking public transport or paying utility bills online; for each action, they receive ‘green energy’ points, which accumulate and result in actual trees planted.

Professor Katharine Hayhoe, a prominent Canadian climate scientist, was honoured in the Science and Innovation category for her stalwart commitment to quantifying the effects of climate change and her tireless efforts to transform public attitudes.

US outdoor clothing brand Patagonia received the 2019 Champions of the Earth award in the category of Entrepreneurial Vision for a dynamic mix of policies that has put sustainability at the heart of its successful business model.

Taking home the final award of the night, Fridays for Future, the youth climate strike movement inspired by Swedish teenager and climate activist Greta Thunberg, was named Champion of the Earth for Inspiration and Action. In a video message to the event, Ms. Thunberg said she hoped the recognition would “make us do even more and work even harder to fight for a livable future”.

Speaking at the ceremony, Fridays for Future representative Kallan Benson said: “We will not put down our signs and go back to school until you act to stop fossil fuel emissions. Giving up is not an option.”

Also winning important recognition on the night were seven Young Champions of the Earth from across the world whose outstanding ideas serve to protect the environment in their local contexts.

Young Champion Molly Burhans, from the United States of America, digitally maps the world’s biggest land owners, encouraging environment stewardship, while Adjany Costa, the winner from the African region, is protecting Angola’s last wild spaces and remote biodiversity hotspots. Russia’s Marianna Muntianu educational gaming initiative, which makes making virtual trees a reality, saw her win the prize for the European region.

Brazilian Anna-Luisa Beserra won the prize for an innovation that uses energy to purify water, and Omar Itani from Lebanon is redesigning the future of fashion with his distribution project. Sonika Manandhar from Nepal is leading an initiative to capture big data from electric vehicles and cut emissions by making transportation efficient, while empowering women, and the joint Asia and the Pacific winner, Louise Mabulo, from the Philippines, is passionate about feeding the future.

Speaking at the event, UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said: “I have been struck by the grit and determination of individuals who refuse to back down in the face of daunting challenges but instead seek, and find, solutions.

“Our 2019 Champions and Young Champions dare to dream bigger; they try harder, and they go further. Their actions speak louder than words,” she added.

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