Press Releases April 2005 - First-Ever UNEP ‘Champions of the Earth’ Presented to Seven Environmental Leaders - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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First-Ever UNEP ‘Champions of the Earth’ Presented to Seven Environmental Leaders

NEW YORK/NAIROBI, 19 April 2005 - Two monarchs, government and religious leaders, as well as indigenous and youth group representatives were honoured this evening at UN Headquarters with the inaugural UNEP Champions of the Earth award.

In presenting the awards to this unique group of seven environmental leaders, representing each region of the world, Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), hailed them for their efforts to "fight for, defend and protect the natural riches that we have for too long taken for granted".

"UNEP is honoured to recognize the achievements of those 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", he noted.

The Champions of the Earth award was created by UNEP in 2004 to honour individuals or groups who have made a significant and recognized contribution, regionally or beyond, to the protection and sustainable management of the Earth’s environment and natural resources. Laureates have been rewarded for their creativity, vision and leadership, and for the potential that their work and ideas can be replicated across the globe.

For North America, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who was on hand to receive the honour in person, was recognized for her energies in speaking out on behalf of the 155,000 Inuit of the Arctic. As Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, she has been a highly effective spokesperson on the international stage on a wide range of Arctic and indigenous issues. These range from the devastating effects of climate change and its relentless assault on the Inuit’s traditional way of life to global efforts to eliminate persistent organic pollutants, which pose a particular threat to Arctic peoples and ecosystems.

The ‘Green Patriarch’, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, was honoured for mobilizing moral and spiritual forces, not just in Europe, but globally, towards achieving harmony between humankind and nature. As leader of the Orthodox Church, he has worked energetically to promote mediation between East and West, and to challenge people and leaders of all faiths to vigorously pursue peaceful and innovative solutions to the challenges of the new millennium. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America accepted the award on behalf of the Patriarch.

Also present this evening was Julia Carabias Lillo, representing the Latin American and Caribbean region. She was honoured for her efforts in coordinating research and rural development programmes in extremely impoverished peasant communities throughout her native Mexico. She was also recognized for her outstanding service to her Government as its Environment Minister in the 1990s and, internationally more recently, as Chair of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the Global Environment Facility.

President Thabo Mbeki and the people of South Africa have received the Champions of the Earth award for their commitment to cultural and environmental diversity. They were also honoured for their efforts towards achieving the goals and targets encapsulated in the 2000 Millennium Declaration and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Plan of Implementation, particularly in the area of clean water and sanitation. Their 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, has also been exemplary. Mr. Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, was on hand to accept the award.

The next honour went to a leader in the West Asia region, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, for his lifetime work to protect his country’s environment, and for his widely acclaimed contributions to agriculture, afforestation and species protection. The presentation of the award recognizing the late Sheikh’s environmental achievements was made yesterday in Dubai to his eldest son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, during an official visit by Mr. Toepfer.

From Asia and the Pacific, the King and the People of Bhutan have been presented the award in recognition of their commitment to placing the environment at the centre of the country’s constitution and all its development plans. Bhutan’s track record is quite impressive, with more than 74 per cent of its land under forest cover, and 26 per cent of this cover designated as protected areas. Also notable are the country’s long-standing 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. Mr. Daw Penjo Bhutan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, accepted the award on behalf of the King and the people of Bhutan.

A special award was given to Mr. Zhou Qiang and the All-China Youth Federation 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 Federation, the national umbrella organization for youth associations in China, has undertaken almost 900 afforestation projects covering nearly 200,000 hectares. Mr. Zhou was in attendance to accept the award.

Note to Editors

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

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.

For more information, pleaser contact: Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information (DCPI), on Tel: +254-20-62-3292, Mobile: +254-733-682-656 or +1-917-434-9338, E-mail:;

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: +254-20-62-3084, Mobile: +254-733-632755, E-mail:;

Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, Head of Outreach and Special Events, on Tel: +254-20-62 3401, E-mail:; or

Jim Sniffen, Information Officer, New York Liaison Office, Tel: +1-212-963-8094, E-mail:




Further Resources

View Photo Gallery
Presentation of Awards to Champions of the Earth 2005 Winners.

Summary of Achievements
Champions of the Earth Winners 2005

Champions of the Earth
Official Website

Speech by UNEP Executive Director at the Presentation of the Champions of the Earth Awards

Statement by Bhutan upon Receipt of the Champions of the Earth Award

Statement by Canada's Sheila Watt-Cloutier upon Receipt of the Champions of the Earth Award

Statement by the All-China Youth Federation upon Receipt of the Champions of the Earth Award

Statement by S. Africa Permenant Representative upon Receipt of the Champions of the Earth Award

UNEP Names Seven "Champions of the Earth"
UNEP Press Release


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