On the launch of the UNEP Sasakawa Prize

Speech by Mr. Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director,

At the Bank of America building,

San Francisco, California, USA

Saturday 4 June 2005

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be here today to launch the new UNEP Sasakawa Prize.

For more than 20 years, the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize has stood as a mark of excellence in the environmental field.

The Prize winners rank among the world’s most influential thinkers and doers.

Take, for example, Professor Mario Molina.

Thanks to his tireless and thorough work – which incidentally also won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry – the international community woke up to the dangers of ozone depletion.

What’s more, once the alarm was sounded, it prompted collective action of a kind we had not seen before to save the global environment.

The Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol stand as examples and models for the world to follow in tackling other environmental challenges that face us – such as climate change.

But Professor Molina is not alone.

His is just one name among 28 outstanding individuals and institutions that we have honoured over the years.

All these worthy winners have made an immense contribution.

Last year we all invited all our past laureates to Beijing to celebrate 20 years of the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.

It gave us the opportunity to consult the views of our eminent colleagues about the environmental challenges for the future.

This we did in four panels that looked at the issues of air, energy, land and water.

The celebrations were also opportunity to honour the commitment and vision of the Nippon Foundation, who have so generously and steadfastly supported this prize.

I am pleased today that we can reveal that they have pledged to continue that support.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The 20th anniversary celebrations of the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize marked a watershed.

When the Prize was first initiated, the environment movement had yet to attain the maturity to which it has grown today.

The Prize, quite rightly, was designed to reward achievements and to publicize the issues on which our sustainable development is based.

I think that those issues are now well understood by governments and by communities across the globe.

Of course, that knowledge is not always acted on.

So, when we came to look back on the achievements and legacy of 20 years of the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize, and to reflect on its future, we decided that we would give it a change in emphasis.

Moving away from the concept of reward for achievement, we have re-fashioned the Prize as an incentive.

Each year we will choose a theme.

Within that theme we will then recognize an individual or institution that represents excellence in innovation, research, groundbreaking ideas or initiatives.

The guiding light for our search will be sustainability and replicability.

The Prize will be forward-looking, and the financial reward that goes with it will provide a means to further the development of the work of the winner.

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I am proud today to announce the launch of the new UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize.

Ion the past we have honoured environmental leaders.

Now we intend to honour -- and nurture – the leaders of the future.

These leaders will first be identified – and publicized – through a short-list selected by a high-profile board of judges, whose membership itself shall evolve over time.

Some – representing the various regions of the world – will sit for three-year terms.

The remainder will comprise past UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize winners, chosen for their knowledge of and association with the year’s theme.

Selecting and publicizing a short-list will serve two important purposes.

It will help to raise the profile of the Prize and the issues we want to air, and it will also highlight the work of the potential winners, thus giving them much needed publicity.

Finally, we will announce the overall winner, who we will honour at an annual award ceremony.

Again, the date and location will provide maximum exposure.

The ceremony will be in a major media centre, such as New York or Tokyo, and will feature, as well as the prize winner, a keynote lecture on the year’s theme by one of the judging panel, who will, of course, be an internationally known and respected figure.

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is a the state of our exciting new venture, which I am sure will make as many, if not more, waves as its forerunner.

In closing, let me just once more thank our sponsors and partners, the Nippon Foundation, without which none of this would have been possible.

Thank you.


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