European Environment Commissioner Receives Top UN Environment Award Wed, Sep 18, 2013

Janez Potočnik Recognized for Efforts to Promote Resource Efficiency and Reduce Food Waste in European Union

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New York / Nairobi, 18 September 2013 - European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potočnik has received the United Nations' 2013 Champions of the Earth award.

The prize - which is the UN system's highest environmental accolade - is awarded to leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a significant and positive impact on the environment.

Mr. Potočnik, 55, received the Policy Leadership award for his commitment to an inclusive Green Economy and boosting resource efficiency including in respect to food wastage across the European Union.

The Slovenian national's leadership has emphasized how rising pressures on water, land, and other resources can trigger a positive shift towards more sustainable, low-carbon economies and lifestyles.

Mr. Potočnik who took office in 2010, has called for EU member states to pursue policies and incentives to promote sustainable consumption and production, most notably in the agricultural sector.

Under his leadership, the European Union has set targets to halve food waste and practically eliminate landfill by 2020. His role in tackling resource inefficiencies across the food chain has made a substantial contribution to the ongoing UNEP and Food and Agricultural Organization's campaign Think.Eat.Save: Reduce Your Foodprint.

"It is an honour to receive this award and I wish to express to UNEP my deep appreciation for its work on sustainable development. Unless we change the way we produce and consume we will face a crisis in our natural resources. It is crucial that we make the necessary changes now rather than when we hit environmental tipping points," said Mr. Potočnik,

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said, "Despite the challenges posed by the financial crisis  and the economic downturn Mr. Potocznik played a key role in maintaining Europe's focus on the future as an advocate for a more sustainable and resource efficient economy. Science, innovation and persistence have been leitmotifs of his tenure as Commissioner for the Environment."

"Leadership and vision will be the hallmarks of a transition to an inclusive Green Economy in developed and developing countries alike. That transition is underway and has been given fresh impetus by the outcomes of last year's Rio+20 Summit. This year's Champions of the Earth are among those who are putting in place the actions, policies and pathways to scale-up and accelerate such transformations. As such they are lighting rods towards a sustainable 21st Century," he added.

Other winners of the 2013 Champions of the Earth award, which is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), include: Google Earth; Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement; Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Environment, Brazil; Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD; Jack Dangermond, founder of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), and Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo from the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.

The Guangdong Wealth-sponsored awards were held in the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and were hosted by environmental activist, supermodel and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen.

Details of the other award winners are 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

Individual press releases announcing the credentials of each of the winners are 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, Sponsor of the Champions of the Earth Awards

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 Director of Communications and Spokesperson, Tel: +254 733 632755 or +41 795965737 (Roaming), Email:

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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