Press releases

Thursday 22 Apr 2010

Green Economy Takes Centre Stage at UNEP 2010 Champions of the Earth Awards

Seoul (Republic of Korea), 22 April 2010 – The 2010 Champions of the Earth, the United Nations’ highest awards for environmental leadership, were announced today.

The six winners, drawn from the worlds of government, science, business and entertainment, each exemplify how action, inspiration, personal commitment and creativity can catalyze a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient 21st-century Green Economy.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, today announced the winners of this year’s UNEP Champions of the Earth awards as:

  • The President of Guyana and passionate forestry and ecosystem infrastructure proponent, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo
  • The President of the Maldives and international climate change campaigner, His Excellency Mohamed Nasheed
  • Afghanistan’s Director General of the National Environmental Protection Agency and avid sustainability advocate, Prince Mostapha Zaher
  • Japanese earth scientist and pioneer of research into how the oceans cycle carbon, Dr. Taro Takahashi
  • Chinese actress and popular green life-style guru, Ms. Zhou Xun
  • American venture capitalist, green energy entrepreneur and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Vinod Khosla.

The trophies were presented at a gala event in Seoul, Republic of Korea during Earth Day and in conjunction with the Business for the Environment Global Summit (B4E), which is being attended by more than 1,000 representatives from business, government, and civil society.

Mr. Steiner said: “The six winners represent some of the key pillars upon which society can build Green Growth and a development path to unite rather than divide six billion people. Entrepreneur Vinod Khosla has made it a personal mission to realize a low-carbon path by establishing investments in clean and renewable energy start-ups.”

“President Nasheed is not only an articulate voice for the vulnerable and the poor facing the challenges of global warming, but a politician who is showcasing to the rest of the world how a transition to climate neutrality can be achieved and how all nations, no matter how big or how small, can contribute.”

“Dr Takahasi has pioneered the science of climate change as it relates to the seas and oceans. In doing so, his work not only underlines the threats but also the policy choices governments and investors must make to ensure the marine realm remains healthy, productive and an ally against climate change.”

“Prince Zaher has transformed environmental policy and laid the foundation for sustainability in one of the most challenging countries on the planet at this moment in history. He has balanced the day-to-day realities of Afghanistan with a determination that his country will have clean air and healthy water—backed by laws-- upon which a sustainable and peaceful society can be built.”

“Zhou Xun is an actress and one of, if not the, most popular and acclaimed celebrities in China. Her well publicized statements, advice and life-style choices are influencing millions of fans to become more environmentally-conscious citizens and consumers.”

“Last but not least, President Jagdeo is a powerful advocate of the need to conserve and more intelligently manage the planet’s natural and nature-based assets. He has recognized more than most the multiple Green Economy benefits of forests in terms of combating climate change, but also in terms of development; employment; improved water supplies and the conservation of biodiversity,” said Mr. Steiner.

The awards, first established in 2004, recognize achievements in areas of: Entrepreneurial Vision, Policy and Leadership, Science and Innovation, Inspiration and Action, and a special category for 2010, Biodiversity and Ecosystems Management.

The Champions of the Earth is an international environment award given out every year by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The award recognizes individuals who embody commitment and vision towards environmental leadership through their action and their influence. To date, the award has recognized 34 outstanding environmental leaders.

 
ENTREPRENEURIAL VISION - Khosla Ventures / Vinod Khosla
A legendary venture capitalist and the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Vinod Khosla has been dubbed Silicon Valley’s ‘Mr. Green’. In September 2009, Khosla’s venture capital firm, Khosla Ventures, announced it had raised US$1.1 billion in a “green fund” that would be used to spur development of renewable energy and other clean technologies.
The fund came at a time when venture capital investments in green technology were just beginning to recover from a precipitous fall prompted by the global economic collapse in 2008. Of the US$1.1 billion, US$800 million will place investments in more established technologies while US$275 million will be used to make smaller investments in earlier stage technology companies. At the time of its announcement, the fund was the largest launched since 2007 and one of the largest ever launched for clean technologies.
Mr. Khosla has begun several environmental start-ups to try to reduce the world’s dependence on petroleum. He says the burgeoning revolution in oil alternatives will be bigger -- far bigger – than the internet revolution of yesteryear.
In his personal life, Khosla is carbon-neutral. He offsets his own carbon emissions with TerraPass.com and Carbonfund.org, and says he will soon be carbon-negative.
In January 2010, Bill Gates announced he has invested in Khosla’s green technology fund. When asked about Khosla, Gates said: “He is backing some great entrepreneurs. I get some exposure to them as part of that. Innovation is called for in a big way.”

POLICY AND LEADERSHIP -  President Mohamed Nasheed, Maldives
His Excellency Mohamed Nasheed has been the President of the Maldives since 2008. He has received global recognition for his efforts to curb climate change and raise awareness of environmental issues, particularly as it related to island-nations.
He featured prominently in the international media in the run-up to, and during, the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. During that time, he even convened an underwater cabinet meeting on the ocean floor to highlight the grave climate change-related threats to the Maldives.
President Nasheed has pledged to make the Maldives the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2020.  He has warned that Maldivians may be forced to seek a new homeland should rising sea levels make the Maldivians’ archipelago uninhabitable. 
Moreover, he is campaigning for the protection of coral reefs that helped save his country from the devastating 2005 tsunami by absorbing the brunt of the powerful earthquake-triggered wave.
President Nasheed, a former journalist who was jailed several times for his articles, formed the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) while in self-proclaimed exile. He returned to the Maldives in 2005 to begin promoting the MDP. In 2008, President Nasheed won the country’s first ever multiparty presidential election by popular vote.
He has received several awards in recognition of his pioneering environmental work: Time Magazine named him a 2009 Hero of the Environment, and ‘The Age of Stupid’, the film on the devastating effects of climate change, presented him with an award at the film’s global premiere in New York City during Global Climate Week in September 2009.
President Nasheed continues to urge various leaders from developing or vulnerable countries like the Maldives to break away from carbon-based growth and to embrace green technologies for a carbon neutral future.

SCIENCE AND INNOVATION - Dr. Taro Takahashi, Earth Scientist, Japan
After earning a degree in engineering, a doctorate in Earth Science and a professorship at Queens College and Columbia University, Dr. Taro Takahashi is now a Senior Scholar at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.
Dr. Takahashi has devoted five decades of his life to discovering how carbon cycles through oceans, land and atmosphere, and his work is the foundation upon which all carbon-cycle research is now built.
Dr. Takahashi found that the majority of global CO2 resided in the ocean. He also made many important observations of oceanic absorption and its variation depending on water temperature and seasons.
Dr. Takahashi explains that his main research “is aimed at understanding the fate of industrial CO2 released in the air” and hopes that his study “will lead to a better understanding and hence to a reliable prediction of the oceans’ capacity to absorb industrial CO2”. The idea is to estimate the extent of the capacity of the oceans as a climate regulator.
With financial support from the Ford Company, which recognized him with the Ford Award in 2004, he has been studying how climate change may alter interactions between land and oceans, as well as the solutions for mitigating these alterations.
“He initiated the methods we all use,” said Richard Feely, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who studies El Niño and carbon cycling. “Just about everyone who has worked with him has benefited from his wisdom and advice.”

INSPIRATION AND ACTION

  1. Prince Mostapha Zaher, Afghanistan
  2. Zhou Xun, Actor and Environment Advocate, China

Prince Mostapha Zaher, Afghanistan
Afghanistan’s 46-year-old Director General of the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), Prince Mostapha Zaher has laid the foundation for a sustainable and peaceful future in Afghanistan. For the past five years, he has worked tirelessly for the environment in a country ravaged by 25 years of war and continues to find ways to bring clean, efficient and cost-effective solutions to the citizens of one of the world’s poorest nations.
In 2004, after the fall of the Taliban, Zaher and his family returned to his homeland where he gave up his post as Ambassador to Italy to take up the job as Director General of the newly formed NEPA. The opportunity revived Zaher’s lifelong dream of turning the royal hunting grounds into a nature reserve open to all Afghans.
Since taking the post, he has rewritten the nation’s environmental laws, including an act in the Constitution declaring it the responsibility of every Afghan citizen to “protect the environment, conserve the environment, and to hand it over to the next generation in the most pristine condition possible”.
In 2008, he attended the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC), where he pledged to improve air quality in Kabul between 10-12 per cent by the year 2012. His commitments work in tandem with Afghanistan’s Environment Act of 2006. At the same time, NEPA announced it would allocate at least 3 per cent of its core budget to environmental research and development.
In partnership with the Ministry of Energy and Water and the international community, NEPA hopes to apply cutting edge solar and wind technology to address environmental concerns in Afghanistan.
Zhou Xun
Zhou Xun, one of China’s most popular actresses, spends much of her time promoting ‘tips for green living’ through Our Part, a campaign she runs jointly with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The actress encourages people to reduce their carbon footprint through simple changes in lifestyle, something that can make a huge difference in a country the size of China.
Zhou Xun points out that if every car-owning family in China drove just 200 km less in a year, carbon dioxide emissions would be cut by 460,000 tons. She also states that small efforts like unplugging appliances can make a huge impact in China, a country with 300 million TV sets and 500 million mobile phones.
She works on reducing her own carbon footprint and follows her tips in her own day-to-day life. She takes her own chopsticks, mugs and shopping bags with her wherever she goes and tries to convince others to use reusable products. She plants three trees for every 200 km of her car travel and is planting many more to offset her flights from 2008. And when it’s feasible, she bikes or walks to her destinations. 
Zhou Xun was named a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador for China in 2008 with a special focus of promoting environmental sustainability and will be the Green Ambassador for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

SPECIAL CATEGORY (Biodiversity & Ecosystems Management)
– President Bharrat Jagdeo, Guyana
Guyana’s 45-year old President Bharrat Jagdeo has gained international recognition for his position on environmental issues within his country and on the global scale.
As the President of a country with 40 million acres of untouched rainforest, Mr. Jagdeo has been working on inviting donors and investors to pay for the protection of the forests through the sale of carbon credits, or investments in eco-tourism and pharmaceutical discoveries. With the money he expects to generate from this trade, President Jagdeo plans to improve the country’s coastal infrastructure to protect it from the potential rise in sea levels.
He has proposed that the UN Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program adopts Guyana’s model on forest management and has encouraged the rest of the world to live in a way “where protecting forests is more economically prudent than cutting them down”.
He served as Guyana’s Prime Minister and Minister of Finance prior to winning the presidency in 2001 and 2006.

Notes to Editors:

The Champions of the Earth awards were established in 2004 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The award recognizes individuals who embody commitment and vision towards environmental leadership through their action and their influence.

To date, the award has recognized 34 outstanding environmental leaders including Al Gore, Brazil’s former Environment Minister Marina Silva, Sudanese researcher Dr. Balgis Osman-Elasha and Olympic Committee Chair Jacques Rogge, among others.

The 2010 prize categories are: Entrepreneurial Vision, Policy and Leadership, Science and Innovation, Inspiration and Action, and a special category, Biodiversity and Ecosystems Management.

This year, members of the public had the opportunity to nominate people online for the prize. More than 100 nominations were submitted from around the world. The nominees were then shortlisted and the finalists were chosen through an internal review.
Thanks to a new partnership with LG Electronics Inc., this year’s Champions of the Earth Awards will come for the first time with a monetary prize of US$40,000 for each of the category winners. In addition to the especially commissioned trophy created by renowned Chinese artist, Yuan Xikun, the cash prize serves as an incentive and resource for growing and replicating the laureates' work and their impact on the communities they serve.
For more information on the Champions of the Earth awards, visit: www.unep.org/champions
About the B4E Summit:
B4E is the biggest annual gathering of leaders from business, government, NGOs and the media, which aims to foster dialogue and business-driven action towards a global Green Economy.
The summit, which takes place this year in Seoul (Republic of Korea) on 21-23 April, is co-hosted by UNEP, the UN Global Compact, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).  It will bring together hundreds of business leaders to address topics such as resource efficiency, renewable energies, new business models and climate policy and strategies.
For more information on the B4E summit, visit: www.b4esummit.com
For more information on UNEP’s work on the green economy, visit: www.unep.org/greeneconomy
For more information please contact:
Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media: Mobile: 254 733 632 755 or while traveling: +41 79 596 57 37, Email: nick.nuttall@unep.org
Shereen Zorba, UNEP News Desk: Mobile: +254 713601259, E-mail: shereen.zorba@unep.org
Nicolle Kuritsky, Edelman, Mobile:  +82 (10) 3889-8902, E-mail: Nicolle.Kuritsky@edelman.com 

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