16 Sep 2019 Press Release Ecosystems

Young environmental prize winner for Europe makes virtual forest restoration in Russia a reality

  • Twenty-nine-year-old Marianna wins the prestigious Young Champions of the Earth Prize for bringing virtual forests to life in Russia. 
  • Seven young entrepreneurs under the age of 30 with big ideas for environmental change have been recognized from across the globe.
  • Young Champions from each region receive seed funding, mentoring and communications support to amplify their efforts. 

16 September 2019 – Twenty-nine-year-old Marianna Muntianu has won the Young Champions of the Earth Prize for making virtual trees a reality through her mobile game “Plant the Forest”.

As world leaders gather at the UN Headquarters in New York for the Climate Action Summit and General Assembly in the coming days, climate and the environment will be at the forefront of discussions. Youth around the world are already taking action, because there is no time to lose.

Russia is home to 19 per cent of the world’s forest reserves by surface area. Russian forests sequester an estimated 300 and 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. But record wild fires threaten critical biodiversity and global carbon sequestration potential.

Muntianu’s solution developed with partners from Expo Live Dubai, is a game combining virtual reality with restoration efforts on the ground. As players have been growing their virtual forest, they have, in parallel, restored 400,000 trees in 17 regions of Russia to date. Over the weekend, Muntianu and her team planted another 10,000 seedlings near Irkutsk, Siberia.

“For people in cities, wild fires sweeping through the forest are often remote concerns,” said Muntianu. “Virtual reality can bring people closer to critical environmental issues such as forest restoration, and tree planting is a beautiful way to create a better future.”

Through a permanent crowdfunding platform, donors are rewarded with a certificate and Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of their seedlings, selected by local forest experts and planted by volunteers. Trees are also chosen for resilience to pests and diseases, or disasters.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “Restoring our landscapes will be critical to our success in tackling the existential crisis of climate change. And when we bring people closer to the potential solutions, we will have greater chance of scaling up restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems, improving food security and ending biodiversity loss.”

Markus Steilemann, Chief Executive Officer of Covestro, said: “The business world needs fresh thinking and much more of a start-up culture to tackle global environmental challenges, while ensuring our long-term growth. The Young Champions of the Earth can help achieve this and everyone at Covestro is proud to support them. We want to help make the world a brighter place.”

A global jury, made up of Covestro Chief Executive Officer Markus Steilemann, UN Environment Programme’s Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya, VICE News Tonight’s science and climate change correspondent Arielle Duhaime-Ross, UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake and Kathy Calvin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation, selected the winners among 35 regional finalists from over 1,000 applicants.

Over the next year, the creative, innovative and impactful initiatives of the winners will be documented on social media, through regular news updates and video blogs. Sign up and follow their journey here

The prestigious Young Champions of the Earth prize, powered by Covestro, is awarded every year by UN Environment Programme to young environmentalists between the ages of 18 and 30, for their outstanding ideas to protect the environment. 

Marianna is one of seven winners from Africa, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and West Asia. The winners will receive their award during the Champions of the Earth Ceremony in New York City on 26 September, coinciding with the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting and the Climate Action Summit.



About the Young Champions of the Earth

The Young Champions of the Earth Prize was first started in 2017, offering the prestigious and highly successful Champions of the Earth platform – with laureates including heads of state, inspiring scientists, and environmental visionaries – to brilliant young environmentalists with a vision.

About UN Environment

UN Environment Programme is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About Covestro

With 2018 sales of EUR 14.6 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life.

For more information contact:

UN Environment Programme, Head of News and Media, Keishamaza Rukikaire, [email protected]