Nairobi, 5 December 2017 – Six inspirational environmental leaders today received the United Nations' highest environmental honour, the Champions of the Earth award, during the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.
President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, Paul A. Newman and his team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, American filmmaker Jeff Orlowski, bike-sharing startup Mobike, Chairman of Elion Resources Group Wang Wenbiao, and the Saihanba Afforestation Community were all lauded for actions that had a significant positive impact on the environment.
“As we face unprecedented threats to our environment, strong leadership at all levels is more important than ever,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment. “This year’s Champions embody the commitment, vision and energy we so desperately need.”
The awards were presented during the third UN Environment Assembly, which brings together over 4,000 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, UN officials and civil society representatives to tackle the global menace of pollution.
The 2017 winners received the awards for action in the following categories:
Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile, for outstanding leadership in creating marine protected areas and boosting renewable energy.
In October 2015, President Bachelet established the marine park Nazca-Desventuradas in San Ambrosio and San Felix Islands, and a range of protected areas and marine parks in the Juan Fernandez Islands. She also extended protected areas in Easter Island. The total coverage is now over 1 million km2, the largest in the world. Aside from marine environmental protection, her policies have seen renewable energy production surge from 6 to 17 per cent of Chile’s energy mix in just 4 years.
“Chile has shown the world that you don’t need to be a rich country to preserve the environment,” said President Bachelet. “I feel honored to be included in this outstanding group of people and grateful for being acknowledged as one of this year’s Champions of the Earth, the UN’s highest environmental recognition.”
SCIENCE AND INNOVATION
Paul A. Newman & NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, for outstanding contributions to the Montreal Protocol – which has phased out 99 per cent of ozone-depleting substances and led to the healing of the ozone layer.
The first satellite instrument to measure ozone was put into space by the Goddard centre in 1970, and the first Antarctic ozone hole pictures were made using Goddard satellite data in 1985. Since the early 90s, the center has been instrumental in leading updates to the Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, looking at how policies impact the atmosphere and setting a new high-water mark for international scientific cooperation. The ozone layer is now healing and will return to 1980 levels by mid-century. As a result, up to 2 million cases of skin cancer may be prevented each year by 2030. The Kigali Amendment to the protocol, signed in 2016, is now targeting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are climate-warming gases with significant global-warming potential. Action in this area can help avoid up to 0.5° Celsius in global warming by the end of the century.
“Ozone is our unseen natural sunscreen,” said Mr. Newman. “It’s crucial to understand and carefully watch this vital Earth resource.
Mobike, for exploring market-driven solutions to air pollution and climate change.
Mobike is the world’s largest smart bike-sharing company. After two years of operation, the platform claims over 200 million registered users across more than 200 cities globally, servicing over 30 million rides a day.
Air pollution is a massive problem, particularly in countries like China and India, claiming an estimated 6.5 million lives each year. Bike sharing is a crucial alternative to motorized transport, and companies like Mobike are leading the way in cutting out journeys that contribute to air pollution and climate change.
According to figures collated by the company, Mobike users have cycled more than 18.2 billion kilometres, avoiding 4.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to taking 1.24 million cars off the road for a year.
Every Mobike bike has a GPS tracker, and the company collects bikes that don’t move or are unused – although they are designed to be maintenance-free for four years. The company also has an incentive/disincentive scheme, giving bonus points for proper parking to encourage users to leave their bikes in designated areas.
“It is a tremendous honour to receive this award,” said Mobike’s Founder and President, Hu Weiwei. “Combating climate change, through [pursuing] the United Nations sustainable development goals, is one of the world’s most important priorities, and we commit to using our technology and innovation to help governments and businesses join us in creating a pedal-powered green economy.”
INSPIRATION AND ACTION
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jeff Orlowski, for his work on spreading powerful environmental messages to a global audience
Orlowski is the founder of Exposure Labs, which uses the power of storytelling to create impact. In 2012, he directed the climate-focused documentary, Chasing Ice, which has been screened in over 172 countries, 70 universities, over 75 film festivals, the White House and the UN.
His latest film, Chasing Coral, looks at the effects of ocean warming coral bleaching on these vulnerable ecosystems. The award-winning documentary is the result of 500+ hours underwater, the creative application of cutting-edge technology, submissions of footage from volunteers from 30 countries, and support from more than 500 people around the world. It won the Sundance US Documentary Audience award.
Chasing Coral’s impact campaign is driven by a central mission to inspire a new wave of climate champions in unexpected places, calling on people to arrange screenings of the film and take action to protect coral reefs that are dying across the world.
“The collapse of our reefs is an early, yet urgent warning of the threat posed to all ecosystems,” said Orlowski. “I hope this award can help reveal this elusive story hidden in our ocean to the world.”
Visit www.ChasingCoral.com to learn more. Both films can be streamed on Netflix.
Saihanba Afforestation Community, for transforming degraded land into a lush paradise.
Saihanba, which covers 92,000 hectares and borders the southern edge of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, had by the 1950s become barren due to excessive logging, allowing sand to blow into Beijing from the northern deserts. In 1962, hundreds of foresters began planting trees in the area. Three generations of these foresters have increased forest cover from 11.4 to 80 per cent. The forest now supplies 137 million cubic meters of clean water to the Beijing and Tianjin areas each year, while discharging c. 550,000 metric tons of oxygen. It has spurred economic growth with green sectors, generating USD15.1 million in 2016 alone.
“In the 55 years the farm has existed, people have been growing trees and protecting the forest like their own children,” said Liu Haiying, director of Saihanba Afforestation Community. “I believe that, as long as we continue to promote ecological civilization, generation after generation, China can create more green miracles like Saihanba and achieve harmony between humans and nature.”
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Wang Wenbiao, Chairman of Elion Resources Group, for a lifetime of leadership in green industry.
Better known in China as the “Son of the Desert”, Wang, 61, is the chairman of China’s largest private green industries enterprise, Elion Resources Group, with total assets of over USD 1.6 billion.
Wang bought the Hangjinqi Saltworks in the middle of the Kubuqi desert in 1988. He quickly realized that the saltworks’ financial woes, and the problems with livelihoods in the region, were down to the desert: sand interfering with production and making it difficult to transport products out.
He partnered with local communities and the Beijing government to combat desertification in the desert, which covers around 18,600 sq km in Inner Mongolia. Centuries of grazing had stripped the land, leaving around 70,000 people struggling to survive. Now around two-thirds of the desert has been greened and local communities have jobs and a more pleasant environment. UN Environment research estimated the project has a net value in ecosystem services of $1.8 billion dollars over 50 years.
The project shows how private industry can both turn a healthy profit and make a massive positive contribution to climate change, sustainable development and many other environmental issues.
“My only life goal is to combat desertification for a greener world, with more lush mountains with clear water, which I always value as silver and gold mountains,” Wang said.
In November 2007, Wang was elected as the Vice Chairman of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, and in 2008 won the China Charity Award. In January 2012, he won the title of ‘Chinese Model Worker in Green Work’ for the second time.
NOTES TO EDITORS
For hi-resolution photos of the laureates, visit UN Environment’s Flickr feed
Videos of the Champions will be uploaded here
About Champions of the Earth
The annual Champions of the Earth prize is awarded to outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment.
Since being founded thirteen years ago, the awards have recognized 84 laureates – ranging from leaders of nations to grassroots activists – in the categories of policy, science, business and civil society.
Visit the website here: http://web.unep.org/championsofearth
For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact:
Robert Few, Head of News and Media, UN Environment, +254 715 618 081, [email protected]