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UNEP’s Top Performers Honoured at the Inaugural Baobab Staff Awards Ceremony

Nairobi, 15 April 2008 – An outstanding environmental advocate for Kenya's forests, the Iraqi marshlands project coordinator, the predominately female team working in Afghanistan, the manager in charge of biodiversity-related conventions, and a diligent multitasker working in the Division of Communications and Public Information were recognized at the first-ever Baobab Staff Awards Ceremony held today at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

The awards scheme was established in 2007 to recognize and reward exceptional performance and dedication to achieving the goals of UNEP, and takes its name after the baobab tree native to African savannas, which is a symbol of strength, power and resilience. The awards are open to all UNEP staff worldwide, including those working for the UNEP multilateral environmental agreements, and the finalists are selected through a popular vote cast by the organization's employees.

In her opening remarks, Beverly A. Miller, Master of Ceremony and Chairperson of the 2007 Baobab Awards Committee, highlighted that the inaugural year's nominees set the bar very high for those to follow, providing outstanding examples of professional and personal commitment to UNEP and the global environment.

The winners and finalists of the 2007 Baobab Staff Awards were then announced by the UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and Deputy Executive Director Angela Cropper.

The Environmental Service Award was presented to Christian Lambrechts, Policy and Programme Officer, UNEP Division of Early Warning and Assessment, Nairobi, in recognition of his personal commitment to conservation and sustainable use of Kenya's natural resources. His achievements include contributing to the designation of Mt Kenya forest national reserve and protecting the Aberdare Range, the vast mountainous forest known as the "water towers" of Kenya.

The Managerial Service Award was presented to Elizabeth Mrema, Senior Legal Officer and Chief of the Biodiversity Unit, UNEP Division of Environmental Law and Conventions, Nairobi. "She makes me come to the office with a smile – I could not wish for any better 'boss'," was how a colleague described Ms. Mrema in her nomination for the Baobab Award, also highlighting her professionalism, substantive knowledge and openness.

The Professional Service Award was presented to Chizuru Aoki, Iraq Marshlands Project Coordinator at UNEP's International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC), located in Shiga, Japan. IETC is part of the UNEP Division of Technology, Industry, and Economics. Presenting the award, Executive Director Steiner said: "Working in extremely difficult circumstances, Ms. Aoki provided effective coordination for the Iraqi Marshlands Project, which has been recognized as one of the most successful projects in Iraq".

The Support Service Award was presented to Roy Kanai, Personal Assistant to the Director, UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, Nairobi. Described by his colleagues as "an essential element in the smooth running of the office," Mr. Kanai has also been singled out for his multitasking and interpersonal skills, which he applies for building and maintaining good relations with both internal and external collaborators.

The Team Award was presented to the UNEP Kabul Team, which, despite the constraints of Afghanistan's most challenging working environment, has achieved notable success in the implementation of the four-year, US$5 million institutional and capacity building programme. A remarkable feature of the team is its gender composition, with women currently outnumbering men 4:1.

Furthermore, special commendations were presented to the Billion Tree Campaign and the Fourth Global Environment Outlook initiative in recognition of their role in raising public awareness on environmental issues.

The inaugural Baobab Awards attracted hundreds of votes from UNEP staff worldwide to determine the winners among the 44 nominees. The 2008 edition of the awards is expected to be launched shortly. The prizes that are given with a Baobab Award range from team building exercises to professional development opportunities for the winners.