As Cipriani restaurant in New York filled with guests on 26 September 2019, the Champions of the Earth award ceremony came alive with colour and energy.
At a time when climate change is at the top of the agenda, action to tackle our environmental crisis was central to the night’s activities.
As leaders gathered in New York to tackle the climate crisis during talks at the United Nations throughout the week, the Champions of the Earth award—the UN’s highest environmental honour—celebrated action.
Laureates and Young Champions of the Earth reminded the 450 high-level guests and delegates that there are solutions—and bold people who search for and find them.
It was an evening of achievement, with winners including the country of Costa Rica, climate scientist Professor Katharine Hayhoe, the company Patagonia, Chinese mobile app Ant Forest and the movement Fridays for Future, honoured for their remarkable achievements towards environmental protection.
Patagonia’s Chief Executive Officer Rose Marcario spoke of severe setbacks to democracy and social and environmental justice in Patagonia’s acceptance speech.
There has been too much greed at the expense of those who have little or nothing, she said. “Even the largest, most powerful businesses realize that short-term financial gain at the expense of long-term economic health as well as social and environmental well-being will fail,” she added.
“It is now time, high time, for civil society and the private and public sectors, but business especially, to evolve capitalism to develop an economy that serves Mother Earth and all her people. It is time to answer roguery and greed with action.”
It was also an evening of hope, as young champions aged between 20 and 30 took to the stage to share their stories and remarkable inventions.
From safe drinking water to forest restoration in the Russian Federation and community conservation in Angola, the young champions charmed the audience with their stories of incredible drive, courage and vision.
UN Environment Programme’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen, began the evening by recognizing the grit and determination of the laureates who “refuse to back down in the face of daunting challenges but instead seek, and find, solutions.” There is no time to waste, she said.
Presenting the awards were Alec Baldwin, 2011 Champion of the Earth and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Angelique Kidjo and UN Environment Programme Goodwill Ambassador, Dia Mirza
Angelique Kidjo, Champion of the Earth and Beninese singer-songwriter, actress and activist noted for her diverse musical influences, said: “Tonight is special because since we have been talking about climate change, it’s the first time we have seen the young pushing for this agenda… They suddenly wake up to this nightmare saying, if we don’t stand up, nothing is going to change.
Youth climate strike movement Fridays for Future founded by Greta Thunberg were awarded for their remarkable ability to galvanize action and attention around the topic of climate change around the world.
In a video message, Thunberg said the recognition would “make us do even more and work even harder to fight for a liveable future.”
Speaking on behalf of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, 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.”
Goodwill Ambassador Rocky Dawuni was among the guests and spoke of the importance of celebrating youth action. “For me, the youth are an incredible part of really bringing the message of the environment,” he said.
“Not only among their own peers, but spreading around the world as has been evident in the youth movement that has sprouted and inspired people into the streets. Today being there and celebrating that energy, this is really an important day for me.”
American football star Ovie Mughelli and founder of the Ovie Mughelli foundation to train youth as thought leaders on environmental issues, said:
“The reason I’m here tonight is to celebrate what the world’s doing because we’re finally starting to get it. We’re finally acting with the urgency that climate change and the climate crisis deserves. We’re getting a lot closer.”
The event’s sponsors also spoke during the ceremony. Chief Executive Officer of Weibo—China’s social media giant—Charles Chao, spoke about the importance of reaching more people with environmental messages.
Covestro’s Head of Sustainability Christian Haessler noted that the environmental crisis cannot be solved without big businesses driving change and a circular economy.
Their invaluable support for this event and their commitment to sustainability in business made honouring these change makers possible.
Everyone can join the young activists insisting on radical changes to address the climate emergency.