05 Dec 2017 Story Environmental rights and governance

UN Environment honours seven new Champions of the Earth

UN Environment honoured seven new Champions of the Earth and feted the inaugural class of Young Champions in front of an audience of 600 distinguished audience members on Tuesday evening.

“Our Champions and Young Champions are living proof that amid today’s environmental, social and economic challenges, there are incredible opportunities for inspirational leadership, fresh approaches and innovative solutions,” said Master of Ceremonies and UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador for India, Dia Mirza. “They are shining examples of how far we have already come in the movement toward sustainable development.”

The festivities also served as the gala dinner for the 2017 UN Environment Assembly, which has seen more than 4,500 representatives of government, business, and civil society convene in Nairobi for the world's highest-level gathering on the environment. 

“I am always astonished at how much our Champions achieve. This year’s are no exception: they embody the commitment, vision and energy that we so desperately need.”  

The evening began with Young Champions of the Earth, an initiative launched in 2017 in partnership with corporate sponsor Covestro, aims to identify, support and celebrate young people who have outstanding potential to create positive impact.

“We, the young people of the world, have inherited a beautiful planet, but it’s under immense pressure,” said UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador Ellie Goulding as she introduced the 2017 Young Champions.

“We represent the single largest generation that the world has ever seen. We are also the first generation to grow up with an understanding of climate change and possibly the last generation to have the chance to prevent its most disastrous effects.” 

Dia Mirza and Ellie Goulding

Richard Northcote, Chief Sustainability Officer for Covestro, a leading supplier of high-tech polymers, told the audience: “[The Young Champions] are truly heroes in my eyes and they epitomize a generation that is not prepared to accept the status quo, but like my own children, rather seek solutions to reverse the damage so many generations before them have inflicted on the planet and society.”

Moving to the Champions of the Earth portion of the programme, UN Environment Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw said: “I am always astonished at how much our Champions achieve. This year’s are no exception: they embody the commitment, vision and energy that we so desperately need.”

In the category of policy leadership, the Champions of the Earth award went to Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile, for her outstanding leadership in creating marine protected areas and boosting renewable energy.

Dr. Paul A. Newman and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center were both laureates in the category of Science and Innovation in recognition of their 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.

“Satellite ozone observations are part of the Montreal Protocol’s science foundation. But the science puzzles are not easily solved. The keys are the observations, and these come from the hard work and dedication of thousands,” Dr. Newman said.

Paul Newman

Mobike, the world’s largest smart bike-sharing company, garnered the award in the category of Entrepreneurial Vision. After two years of operation, the platform claims over 100 million registered users across more than 100 cities globally, servicing over 20 million rides a day.

“Today, it seems that the humble bicycle can not only change people and cities, but can also help change the world – both as a universal symbol of peace, and as a weapon in the fight against climate change,” said Ms. Wei Wei Hu, Mobike founder and president, in accepting the award on her company’s behalf.

In the category of inspiration and action, Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jeff Orlowski was recognized for his work on spreading powerful environmental messages to a global audience. Orlowski is the force behind Chasing Ice, a 2012 documentary focused on climate change that has been screened in over 172 countries, at 75 film festivals, and at the White House. The sequel, Chasing Coral, examines the effects of ocean warming and acidification on these vulnerable ecosystems.

"We feel very proud of ourselves for creating such a green miracle.”

China’s Saihanba Afforestation Community was also named Champion of the Earth for inspiration and action, in honour of its work transforming degraded land into a lush paradise.

In accepting the award on behalf of the Saihanba community, Madame Chen Yanxian said: “For more than half a century, three generations followed just one mission in Saihanba, that is to plant trees with our hearts and souls, and turn the barren hills into green mountains. We feel very proud of ourselves for creating such a green miracle.”

And in the category of Lifetime Achievement, Wang Wenbiao, Chairman of Elion Resources Group, for a lifetime of leadership in green industry.

“Our marathon of desertification control has not come to an end,” Wang Wenbiao said. “On the conviction that ‘green mountains with clear water are silver and gold mountains,’ I will continue my marathon run from Kubuqi to the countries along the Belt and Road, and across the world, to fight against deserts for more oases and happiness.”

Read the Champions of the Earth press release.