Mexican Environmental Pioneer Among Winners of 2013 UN ‘Champions of the Earth’ Award Tue, Sep 17, 2013

Pati Ruiz Corzo Honoured for Empowering Poor Communities and Spearheading Green Economy

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New York / Nairobi, 18 September 2013 - A grassroots environmental campaigner credited with securing the future of one of Mexico's most critical ecosystems, and supporting the livelihoods of disadvantaged rural communities, has received a 2013 Champions of the Earth award; the UN system's highest environmental accolade.

Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, better known as 'Pati', 60, is Director of the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda I.A.P. - Mexico's most ecologically diverse protected area and described as a "green jewel" in the heart of the country.

The reserve is heralded as a model of public-private ecosystem management, where eco-tourism, waste management, and conservation projects provide income for hundreds of local residents, as well as securing the future of a rich habitat once threatened by deforestation and unregulated development.

The Champions of the Earth prize is awarded annually to leaders from government, civil society and the private sector, whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment. It is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Ten years after Ms. Ruiz Corzo, her husband, and local residents established the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group, they successfully lobbied the Mexican Government to grant the area Biosphere Reserve status in 1997. It remains the only case in Mexico of a protected area resulting from a grassroots initiative.

Today, over 380,000 hectares of forest and other ecosystems are afforded special conservation status. Improved community stewardship of the environment has led to a marked decline in destructive land practices, and resulted in some 13,000 hectares of regenerated woodland over the past 15 years. Once-threatened species which inhabit the reserve's 14 distinct ecosystems, including jaguar, butterflies, and aquatic life, are increasing in number.

"A love for the Earth, safeguarding the sacred fabric of Nature, promoting individual and collective efforts, being alert to emergencies, and a maintaining the commitment, creativity and passion to relieve the weight that our society places on the planet; this is what continues to inspire my work," said Ms. Ruiz Corzo.

"The transformation of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere from a critically threatened ecosystem to a living example of conservation through green economic development and community action is testament to Pati's inspirational work over the past three decades," said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner.

Conservation Economy

Ms. Ruiz Corzo has long advocated a "conservation economy", combining natural protected area management with widespread civil participation.

The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve aims to diversify the region's economy by harnessing the benefits of ecosystem services, and training community members in conservation-based skills, to alleviate poverty and build social entrepreneurship.

A "payment for ecosystem services" programme has been central to the success of the reserve.  

The scheme, which gained the backing of the federal government, assigned an economic value to fresh water, land, and other key natural resources.  Local residents were paid US$30-40 per hectare of land for reducing cattle numbers and not cutting down trees, which improved local watersheds and reduced soil erosion.

Among a range of community schemes, the Biosphere Reserve operates over 100 recycling depots, which manage 900 tons of recyclable materials per year. The depots are run on a voluntary basis by local women.

A community environmental education programme has reached 18,000 children in 170 schools in the region, while a network of eco-clubs across five states trains young people in environmental leadership.

Hundreds of local families have shared revenues of around US$2 million from the sale of carbon credits in the reserve.

Ms. Ruiz Corzo received her 2013 Champion of the Earth award in the 'Inspiration and Action' category at a special ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The event, sponsored by Guangdong Wealth, was hosted by environmental activist, supermodel and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen.

The Award includes the following categories: Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision, Science and Innovation and Inspiration and Action.

The full list of the 2013 Champions of the Earth winners is as follows:


Ms. Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Environment, Brazil is recognized for her key role in reversing deforestation in the Amazon and her role on high-level UN panels on sustainable development., According to government figures, Brazil has cut deforestation by 84 per cent over eight years, from an annual loss of over 27,000 sq km in 2004 to around 4,500 sq km in 2012. Apart from the prevention and control of deforestation, the land use planning policies implemented by Ms. Teixeira resulted in 250,000 sq km of conservation areas - the equivalent of 75 per cent of global forest protected areas.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment is recognized for his work advocating a shift from the current global model of intensive resource consumption, including setting 2020 targets for the European Union to halve food waste and practically eliminate the need for landfills. His role in tackling resource inefficiencies across the food chain has contributed substantially to the ongoing UN campaign on food waste, Think.Eat.Save: Reduce Your Foodprint.        


Brian McClendon, co-founder and VP of Google Earth is recognized for providing a powerful tool to monitor the state of the environment, allowing researchers to detect deforestation, classify land cover and estimate forest biomass and carbon and thus demonstrate the scale of problems and illustrate solutions. Google Earth, for example, was used to help rescue workers save more than 4,000 people after Hurricane Katrina and, in Australia, a scientist used the tool to discover a previously unknown coral reef in a region that had been identified for oil and gas development.

Jack Dangermond, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) is recognized for his commitment to ensuring that international, research, education, and nonprofit organizations working in the fields of conservation and development have access to the best geospatial analytical and visualization technology. In 1989, the ESRI Conservation Program was started to change the way non-profit organizations carry out conservation missions. This program provides GIS software, data, and training, and helps to coordinate multi-organizational efforts


Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD was recognized for his pioneering work on black carbon, which included leading a team that first discovered widespread Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and research into how cutting black carbon can significantly mitigate climate change. Dr. Ramanathan showed that ABCs led to large-scale dimming, decreased monsoon rainfall and rice harvest in India and played a dominant role in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. A member of the Science Advisory Panel on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, he is now running Project Surya, which aims at reducing soot emissions from bio-fuel cooking in rural India.


Carlo Petrini, Founder of the Slow Food movement is recognized for his visionary work to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the world's agriculture and food supply "one bite at a time". Slow Food has over 100,00 members and supporters in over 150 countries, defending local food traditions, protecting local biodiversity and promoting small-scale quality products. Petrini is also a coordinator of National and International level research projects in the bioethical field. In 2012, Petrini was invited to speak at the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Food and Nutrition Security at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, Director of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda is recognized for her work in the Sierra Gorda region of Central Mexico, which demonstrates how a broad range of advocacy, public education and income-generation approaches, can produce support healthy ecosystems and alleviate poverty. She was responsible for achieving Biosphere Reserve status for Sierra Gorda under an innovative public-private system. Through her work and advocacy, 33 per cent of the State of Querétaro is now protected as a Biosphere Reserve. Hundreds of families in Sierra Gorda now receive a total of over US$2 million from the sale of carbon credits.

Notes to Editors

More information on the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is available at:

About Champions of the Earth

Champions of the Earth, which was launched in 2005, is the UN's flagship environmental award. To date, it has recognized 59 individuals and organizations for their leadership, vision, inspiration and action on the environment. The list of previous Champions laureates include Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Chinese actress and environmental advocate Zhou Xun, the Women's Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) and global music legend Angélique Kidjo. Visit for more details.

About Guangdong Wealth

Guangdong Wealth Environmental Protection is a leading supplier of water purifying products and water treatment integrated solutions in China. The company practices a business model that puts social welfare before economic interests, using the concept "let the sky be bluer and the water clearer". The company invests in environmental scholarships for young university students, organizes clean-up operations and donates tonnes of purifying tablets to tackle pollution in rivers in Guangdong and Beijing.

For more information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Division of Communication and Public Information Director and Spokesperson, Tel. +41 795 965 737 or +254 733 632 755, e-mail:

NY: James Sniffen, UNEP New York Office, Tel. +1-212 963 8094/8210 or Tel. +1-917-742 2281, Email:

UNEP HQ: Shereen Zorba, Head, UNEP News Desk. Tel.: +254 713601259    E-mail:

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