It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the presentation ceremony of one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards – the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.
I would like to extend a special welcome the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan.
During his tenure, Mr. Annan has been a champion not only of human rights and world peace, but also of sustainable development.
I would also like to welcome and thank Mr. Shuichi Ohno, Director of International Affairs at the Nippon Foundation – the sponsor of this Prize.
The unwavering support of the Foundation has enabled us to honour and publicise the environmental achievements of 29 outstanding individuals and institutions from every region of the world.
I would also like to thank Lord Clinton-Davis, the Chairman of the Prize Selection Committee and his eminent team for their choice of winners this year.
A special note of gratitude must also go to tonight’s Pastrano Borrero lecturer, Mr. William Reilly whose sustainable development credentials are impeccable.
As administrator of the United States Environment Protection Agency, and as Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund, Mr. Reilly has experienced both the governmental and the non-governmental sectors — the two worlds of tonight’s winners.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This year, the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize Selection Committee chose to recognise two people from very different backgrounds, and from two countries at opposite ends of the Earth – China and Brazil.
These two developing countries, with vast populations and immeasurable natural resources, are struggling — and I believe succeeding — to address the fundamental question of sustainable development. Namely: how to improve the standards of living of their human populations without compromising their environmental base.
By selecting Minister Xie Zhenhua and Mr Dener Giovanini, the Selection Committee has sent out an important message, that both government and civil society have a crucial role to play as partners in safeguarding the environment.
Partnership was a central concept at last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development. This concept is also embodied in today’s award ceremony. It represents the way forward to a sustainable future.
I have known Minister Xie for several years. I have admired his commitment to the environment, and his ability to get others — not least other ministries of the Chinese government — to commit to the same cause.
For instance, he played a key role in the Government’s decision to divert a flagship development project — the West-East natural gas pipeline — at a cost of $25 million, to protect a wildlife reserve.
His achievements in protecting biological diversity and in addressing water and air pollution are essential contributions to setting China on the path of sustainable development.
People the world over are watching China’s progress with acute interest. The world’s most populous country is also the fastest growing economically.
Doomsayers have said that such growth is not sustainable. That the world does not have the resources to allow China’s 1.3 billion people to enjoy the kinds of lifestyles they aspire to.
I disagree. By following the principles of sustainable production and consumption and by taking advantage of new technologies, I believe China can bypass the environmentally damaging processes that characterised much of the development of Western countries since the Industrial Revolution.
I know that is Minister Xie’s goal and life’s work, and I applaud him for it.
Our other winner, Dener Giovanini, comes from a very different background. Yet, in so many ways, he and Minister Xie have much in common.
They are both men of courage and vision.
They have both worked hard to conserve biodiversity, and to improve conditions for the rural poor.
Ladies and gentlemen,
While we are applauding Dener Giovanini’s achievements, there are people in his native Brazil who are plotting his death.
Why? Because he has chosen to stand up against the forces of greed that are plundering the country’s natural heritage for short-term gain.
The illegal trafficking of wildlife is a multi-billion dollar business, second only to arms and narcotics.
In just five years, Mr. Giovanini has created a network that has made a significant dent in this business in Brazil, and helped change attitudes throughout the country, from government leaders to landless peasants.
Thanks to Dener Giovanini, the issue of wildlife trafficking is now headline news.
The Network for Combating Wild Animal Trafficking has provided training for police and customs officials, created a network of concerned veterinarians to help rehabilitate confiscated animals, and prompted the Brazilian Government to establish a task force to investigate and tackle the problem.
So successful has his approach been that it is being emulated in several other South American countries.
Mr. Giovanini has achieved all this through dogged persistence, a refusal to be diverted or intimidated, and through that special ability that all leaders have — to forge partnerships across sectoral lines, to create allies wherever they are needed.
In this regard, he also has much in common with Minister Xie.
They are, without a doubt, worthy winners of this year’s UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize. And I congratulate them.