Speech by Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, at the Presentation of UNEP Champions of the Earth Award Posthumously to UAE's Late Sheikh Zayed

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Monday 18 April 2005

Your Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan,

It is my honour to ask you to accept the UNEP Champions of the Earth Award on behalf of your late father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. May his soul rest in peace!

I stand here today with mixed feelings.

It gives me great pleasure to publicly acknowledge your father’s considerable achievements.

But it also gives me deep sadness that I cannot present the award in person.

UNEP chose to name the late Sheikh Zayed a Champion of the Earth because of his lifetime commitment to protect the environment of the United Arab Emirates.

Under his leadership more than 100 million trees have been planted to stop the advance of the desert.

And by encouraging a mix of traditional and modern technologies and by stimulating agriculture, His Highness has helped the United Arab Emirates, to quite literally, bloom.

Myriad species of plants and flowers now flourish in this beautiful country, contributing to the well-being of its people.

The award also recognizes His Highness’s commitment to preserving threatened wildlife and habitats.

The release, earlier this month, of the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report emphasized just how important it is that we work to protect the ecosystem services on which we depend.

His Highness, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, understood this.

What is more, he used his influence and his conviction to take action.

Personally, I had the honour to visit his island reserve of Sir Bani Yas – this sanctuary for endangered species.

There I saw the Arabian Oryx, the sand gazelle, the Dorcas gazelle – the symbol of Abu Dhabi. And also the Arabian leopard, the ibex and the dugong.

This is why UNEP has chosen to name His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan a Champion of the Earth. Just as the Sheikh Zayed International Environment Prize is honouring His Highness’s outstanding personality.

Your Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan,

Your Excellency Minister Hamad Al Madfa,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Tomorrow I will be in New York for the main Award Ceremony, where we shall recognize six other Champions of the Earth:

The King and people of Bhutan,

President Thabo Mbeki and the people of South Africa,

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,

Julia Carabias Lillo, former Environment Minister of Mexico,

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and

Zhou Qiang and the All-China Youth Federation.

Between them, they represent all regions and sectors of society.

What they have in common is that they are leaders whose example we are compelled to follow.

It grieves me that His Highness, the Late Sheikh Zayed will not be with us.

But I am comforted that his life was full and well-spent, and that he leaves behind a legacy that should benefit his people for generations to come.

Thank you.


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