Press Releases April 2005 - UNEP Names Seven "Champions of the Earth" - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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UNEP Names Seven "Champions of the Earth"

New environmental award recognizes outstanding and innovative leaders

Nairobi, 12 April 2005 - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has named seven leaders in the field of the environment as Champions of the Earth for “setting an example for the world to follow.”

The awards – for outstanding environmental achievers and leaders from each region of the world – will be presented on Tuesday 19 April at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to:

• The King and people of Bhutan;

• Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (posthumously);

• 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 of Canada, President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference; and

• Zhou Qiang and the All-China Youth Federation.

UNEP’s Executive Director, Mr. Klaus Toepfer, said: “In this inaugural year of the award, UNEP is honoured to recognize the achievements of seven individuals who have, to a large extent, set the environmental agenda and laid the foundations for the many areas of progress we are able to see and celebrate today”.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuk and the people of Bhutan have been given the award for the Asia and the Pacific region in recognition of their country’s “commitment to placing the environment at the centre of its constitution and all its development plans”. The judges praised Bhutan’s “excellent environmental track record, with more than 74 per cent of its land under forest cover, and 26 per cent of this cover designated as protected areas.”

The Kingdom’s decision that development should be pursued in a sustainable way is very much in line with the UN Millennium Development Goals. Also notable are the country’s legislation and policies that ensure the sustainable use of resources, promote community involvement in environmental activities, improve land use planning, and integrate traditional with modern natural resource use practices.

The late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates receives the award for the West Asia region for his “lifetime work” to protect his country’s environment, and his “widely acclaimed” contributions to agriculture, afforestation and species protection. One of Sheikh Zayed’s most enduring achievements is the greening of the region’s deserts. Under his leadership, 100 million trees were planted, hunting was outlawed more than a quarter of a century ago, and a sanctuary was established on the island of Sir Bani Yas to safeguard such endangered species as the Arabian oryx and the sand gazelle.

This selection of Sheikh Zayed, decided before he passed away, comes ahead of the United Nations International Year of Deserts and Desertification in 2006. The presentation of the award recognizing the late Sheikh’s environmental achievements will be made to his eldest son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the United Arab Emirates on 18 April.

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, known in Europe as the ‘Green Patriarch,’ has taken the lead among religious leaders in his concern for the environment. His Holiness, who was born in the village of Aghioi Theodoroi on the Aegean island of Imvros in Turkey, has initiated seminars and dialogues to discuss the need for the mobilization of moral and spiritual forces to achieve harmony between humankind and nature. Among his many environmental achievements is a series of symposia on the conservation of the seas, as part of Religion, Science and the Environment, with the latest being The Caspian Sea – Linking People and Traditions. The symposium also aims to encourage understanding and a dialogue between the Christian and Islamic faiths.

President Thabo Mbeki and the people of South Africa have been given the Africa award for the country’s “commitment to cultural and environmental diversity” and its efforts towards achieving the goals encapsulated in the 2000 Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Plan of Implementation. Particularly noteworthy are its achievements in meeting the Johannesburg targets on providing clean water and sanitation, and its world leadership in conservation practices, including “spearheading of the groundbreaking sponsorship of the Peace Parks concept to support cross-border conservation of critically important wild habitats.” With the declaration of four new Marine Protected Areas in 2004, South Africa has brought almost 19 per cent of its coastline under protection, nearly achieving the 20 per cent target set at WSSD.

As President of South Africa, Mr. Mbeki is well known as one of the architects of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which has a strong environmental component.

Julia Carabias Lillo receives the award for Latin America and the Caribbean for her efforts in coordinating research and rural development programmes in extremely impoverished peasant communities in the four regions of Mexico and for her “success in working with different sectors that include government, academia and civil society.”

Her appointment as President of the National Ecology Institute, and subsequently as Mexico’s Minister of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries, in 1994, reflect her many achievements, as does her appointment in 2002 as Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier receives the North American award for her “contributions in addressing global warming” and in articulating her people’s concerns “in the face of the devastating effects of climate change and its relentless assault on Inuit traditional life.” The judges also cite her “exemplary contribution to global efforts to eliminate persistent organic pollutants, which pose a particular threat to Arctic peoples and ecosystems.”

As President of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, which represents some 155,000 Inuit people in Canada, the United States, Russia and Greenland, and as Vice-president of the national Inuit organization – Inuit Tapirisat of Canada – she is applying her vast experience and knowledge at the international level as a highly effective spokesperson on a wide range of Artic and indigenous issues.

Finally, Zhou Qiang and the All-China Youth Federatio n are given a special award in recognition of Mr Zhou’s “outstanding achievements” as honorary chairman of the Federation and leader of the China Mother River Protection Operation, which mobilised 300 million Chinese youth to protect the environment. The judges praised the Federation as “a very important force for protecting the environment”, recalling that it has undertaken 882 afforestation projects covering 191,000 hectares.”

The All-China Youth Federation is the only national youth association in China and represents an important force for protecting the environment. In addition, exchanges and cooperation in the field of environmental protection have been fostered among young people in more than 50 countries around the world.

Note to Editors

Journalists wishing to attend the award ceremony and/or arrange interviews with UNEP or the Champions laureates should contact:

Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information (DCPI), on Tel: 254-20 62 3292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682 656 or 1 (917) 434-9338,

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 20 62 3084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755,


Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Head of Outreach and Special Events, on Tel: 254 20 62 3401,


Jim Sniffen, Information Officer, New York Liaison Office, Tel: 1 (212) 963-8094,


Background on the Champions of the Earth prize and all the laureates, including biographies and photographs, is available from or from UNEP DCPI.

The Champions of the Earth award, a new international environment award established in 2004, will be presented by UNEP each year to outstanding environmental achievers and leaders.

No monetary reward is attached to the prize, which is meant to publicize and encourage the worldwide replication of the achievements of the Champions of the Earth.

Each laureate receives a trophy especially designed by the Kenyan sculptor Kioko and made of recycled metal. The trophy represents the fundamental elements for life on Earth – sun, air, land and water.

UNEP invites nominations from individuals or groups who have made a significant and recognized contribution globally, regionally and beyond, to the protection and sustainable management of the Earth’s environment and natural resources.

Selected candidates will be rewarded for their creativity, vision and leadership, and the potential of their work and ideas for replication across the globe.

Candidates are judged by a panel of senior UNEP staff members, with input from UNEP’s regional offices.

UNEP News Release 2005/20




Further Resources

Champions of the Earth
Official site

Summary of Achievements
Champions of the Earth Winners 2005

Environmental Awards


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