Statement by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme Executive Director- UNEP Scoops 20 Percent of UN 21 Awards

Billion Tree Campaign; Indian Solar Loan Programme and Iraqi Marshlands Restoration Among the 15 Winners

11 July 2008-I am delighted to inform staff, but also the wider world that three outstanding projects from the UNEP stable have been recognized by their United Nations peers as beacons of creativity and transformational change.

The three projects, who join 12 others from across the entire UN system, echo to the new or perhaps newly understood challenges facing the UN in the 21st century.

Namely climate change and opportunities and the key role of the environment in re-building war torn communities and its contribution towards peace, stability and development.

The Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign(BTC)

The BTC has become an enduring and continuing symbol of the global communities' desire and determination for action on climate change.

Inspired by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai who is also co-patron, the BTC was launched at the climate convention meeting in Nairobi in 2006.

There were a few smiles and shaking of heads as to why UNEP, in partnership with the World AgroForestry Centre, had embarked on such an ambitious venture.

But country after country; community after community and business after business have proved the doubters wrong.

The campaign, whose other patron is His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco, has mobilized action from Presidents to Chief Executive Officers and engaged the grassroots from kindergartens, schools and scouts to local authorities and faith organizations.

Today somewhere over two billion trees have been planted in over 160 countries and in May we announced a goal of seven billion trees by the crucial climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark in late 2009.

I would like to pay tribute the UN staff who have dedicated their time; imagination and enthusiasm to make this campaign such a conspicuous success and who have achieved so much with such a modest budget.

These include the former Director of the Division of Communications and Public Information(DCPI), Eric Falt and Meryem Amar, who runs the BTC from DCPI with the support of in particular Julien Hortoneda; Enid Ngaira; Leah Wanambwa and Keziah Kirika.

Congratulations to all those involved in being judged a UN21Award 2007 winner in the category 'Substantive Programmes'.

Indian Solar Loan Programme

There were those who said it couldn't be done: that solar power was too expensive for the rural poor. But UNEP's Indian Solar Loan Programme has proved the doubters wrong and overturned the status quo.

In doing so has it created a new business model and blue-print for financing domestic renewable energy including solar water heating systems.

This model is now being picked up elsewhere including in Morocco and Tunisia as well as in Albania, Algeria, Chile, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia and Mexico, Montenegro, Serbia

The story began in 2003 when, with the support of the UN Foundation and the Shell Foundation, UNEP and the UNEP Risoe Centre in Denmark teamed up with Canara and Syndicate-two Indian banks with nine associate Rural Grameen Banks.

In order to leapfrog the affordability hurdle, funding was used to buy down the cost of solar loans for people in parts of southern India where electricity is either absent or unreliable.

Over four years an estimated 100,000 people have been able to afford clean and reliable solar power and the initiative is self-financing. Today 20 banks with networks of 2,000 branches are offering competitive solar loans.

In order to meet the challenge, but also realize the huge opportunities inherent in combating climate change, creative market mechanisms and financial instruments are central.

The project, involving $1.5 million from UNEP and $6 million from partner banks underlines that mantra and in doing so also underscores that small, well thought-out and well targeted investments-alongside well rounded partnerships with the banking sector-can prove transformational en route to a low carbon society.

The project has also today been given a UN21 Award for 2007 in the category of 'Field Projects'.

I would like to acknowledged all those involved, in particular Eric Usher of the Energy Branch of UNEP's Division of Technology Industry and Economics (DTIE) and Jyoti Painuly from the UNEP Risoe Centre.

Environmental Management of the Iraqi Marshlands

Satellite images, launched in 2001 by UNEP brought to world attention the scale and pace of environmental degradation of the fabled Marshlands of Mesopotamia and the plight of the Marsh Arabs-the 5,000 year-old heirs to the Babylonian and Sumerian cultures.

Up to 90 per cent of one of the world's most important wetlands, considered by some to be the location of the Biblical Garden of Eden had been lost as a result of dams and then massive drainage works started in the early 1990s after the second Gulf War.

A second UNEP report, launched in 2003, warned that the marshlands-important also for birdlife and Gulf fisheries-were now down to seven per cent of their former area and that on current trends would have disappeared by 2008.

With the collapse of the former Iraqi regime in mid-2003, local residents began opening floodgates and breaching embankments in order to bring water back into the marshlands.

Satellite images indicated that, by April 2004, around a fifth or some 3,000 square kilometres of the marshes had been re-flooded.

The challenge then was to assist the Iraqi Environment Ministry and to restore the environment and provide clean water and sanitation services to the up to 85,000 people living there.

UNEP's $11 million Environmental Management of the Iraqi Marshlands project was launched in July 2004 with financial support from the Government of Japan and under the UNDG Iraq Trust Fund

At six pilot project sites in Thi-Qar, Basrah, and Missan governorates, different Environmentally Sustainable Technologies (ESTs) were tested to see how they perform in bringing drinking water, sanitation systems and wetland management skills to local people and communities.

The "low tech" less polluting ESTs include restoration of reed beds and others marshland habitats that act as natural, water-filtration systems.

A Marshland Information Network (MIN), an Internet-based system that lets those with an interest in the region share their ideas and strategies, was established.

An Arabic version of UNEP's Environmentally Sound Technology Information System, which serves as the basis for MIN was made operational in Iraq and used by the Environment Ministry.

The project also helped to train the Iraqi authorities, both at national government and local levels. About 300 Iraqis have been trained in wetland management and restoration, remote sensing and community-based resource management.

Today some 60 per cent of the Marshlands have water again and, among the numerous success stories linked with the project is the fact that up to 22,000 rural residents in environmentally sensitive areas have gained access to safe drinking water.

The project underlines how environment is central to reconstruction efforts in a post conflict situation but has wider applications across developing economies in areas of ecosystem restoration up to capacity building in environment management and environmentally-friendly technologies.

Today this very special project was given a Commendation by the UN21 committee in the category of 'Field Projects'.

Many individuals within and outside UNEP have made this possible, not least the local communities in the marshlands themselves.

However in UNEP I would like to especially congratulate Chizuru Aoki, the Iraq Project Coordinator at our DTIE International Environmental Technology Centre in Shiga and colleagues including Sivapragasam Kugaprasatham, Aya Mimura, Vicente Santiago, Julien Lefort, Michiko Ota, Yumiko Fukushima, Mao Kawada, Mika Kitagami, Mayumi Morita and Ali Al-Lami.

And also Samira de Gobert, Robert Rodriguez, Robert Bisset and Per Bakken in the DTIE Paris office as well as Habib El-Habr and Basel Al-Yousfi in UNEP's Regional Office for West Asia.

I am delighted at the success. Delighted on behalf of UNEP, its staff and those directly involved in these three 'winning' projects.

There were more than 70 projects nominated for the 2007 awards from across the global Secretariat, involving over 600 staff members.

Five evaluation teams comprised of five staff members each from different duty stations, reviewed, evaluated and recommended 21 projects-14 projects for Awards and seven projects for Commendations.

The High-Level Approving Panel reviewed the recommendations made by the evaluation teams. Only 15 projects were finally selected as winners-nine projects for Awards and six projects for Commendations.

To have three or 20 per cent of these deserves all our applause and should strengthen our resolve for the coming year.


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