Women Sweep UN’s 2021 Champions Of The Earth Awards 

champions of the earth award

A Caribbean-based prime minister, a scientist, a group of indigenous women, and an entrepreneur were announced on Tuesday as this year’s winners of the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth awards.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the all-female Champions were chosen for their impact and leadership in advancing bold action on behalf of people and the planet.

“These Champions of the Earth inspire, defend, mobilise and act to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time, including ecosystem protection and restoration”, the agency said in a statement.

Environmental Standard Bearers

UN news said:

The Champions of the Earth award is UN’s highest environmental honor.

This year’s award recognizes laureates in four categories: Inspiration and Action, Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision, and Science and Innovation.

For the 2021 prizes, UNEP received a record number of nominations from all over the world.

The agency’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen, said the winners’ profiles “demonstrate that all of us can contribute.”

“Every single act for nature counts. The entire spectrum of humanity has both a global responsibility and a profound opportunity”, she said.

“This year’s Champions are women who not only inspire us, but also remind us that we have in our hands the solutions, the knowledge and the technology, to limit climate change and avoid ecological collapse.”

Driving action

Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados was honored in the Policy Leadership category for her “powerful voice” for a sustainable world coming from the global south, consistently raising the alarm about the vulnerability of Small Island Developing States.

UNEP calls the Prime Minister “a driving force” for climate action across the Latin American and the Caribbean region, the first region to agree on the Action Plan for the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.

Under her leadership, Barbados has adopted ambitious renewable energy targets, committing to a fossil-fuel free electricity and transportation sector, by 2030.

At the same time, the country is implementing numerous conservation and restoration projects, from forests, through cities, to the coastline and the ocean. She also co-chairs the One Health Global Leaders’ Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.

The Sea Women of Melanesia, from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, were recognized in the Inspiration and Action category. The group trains local women to monitor and assess the impacts of widespread coral bleaching on some of the world’s most endangered reefs using marine science and technology.

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, from Uganda, was given the top honor in the Science and Innovation category. She was the first-ever wildlife veterinarian of the Uganda Wildlife Authority and is a recognized world authority on primates and zoonotic diseases.

As the CEO and founder of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), she leads the implementation of three integrated strategic programs.

Finally, Maria Kolesnikova, from the Kyrgyz Republic, was honored in the Entrepreneurial Vision category. She is an environmental activist, youth advocate and head of MoveGreen, an organization working to monitor and improve air quality in Central Asia.

Under Ms. Kolesnikova, the organization developed an app called AQ.kg, which collects data, every 20 minutes from the two largest Kyrgyz cities, Bishkek and Osh, about the concentration of pollutants in the air, including PM2.5, and PM10 and nitrogen dioxide.

Ecosystem Restoration

This year’s awards highlight the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which runs until 2030, coinciding with the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

According to UNEP, by halting and reversing the degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, the world can prevent the loss of one million endangered species

Scientists say restoring only 15 per cent of ecosystems in priority areas and improving habitats can cut extinctions by 60 per cent.

Since its foundation in 2005, the Champions of the Earth award has distinguished 101 laureates, including 25 world leaders, 62 individuals and 14 organizations.

Human Rights Day

December 10, 2021 is Human Rights Day.

To have a look back, this story by UN, originally published in October 2021, is posted again.

Nemonte Nenquimo

Nemonte Nenquimo. Photo: Jerónimo Zúñiga /Amazon Frontlines via Reuters

Nemonte Nenquimo, a member of the Waorani indigenous community in Ecuador says she is of “warrior blood.” Her weapon of choice has been an unusual one: the lawsuit.

In 2019, under Nenquimo’s leadership, the Waorani sued the Ecuadorian government for not consulting with them before offering their land for oil exploration.

“As indigenous people, we must unite in a single objective: that we demand that they respect us,” said Nenquimo, who is a UNEP Champion of the Earth. “The Amazon is our home and it is not for sale.”

Later that year, the court passed a historic ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Waraoni land from oil exploration. Like Nenquimo, thousands of activists across the world have had to place their lives in peril to protect their lands and nature. But now, these environmental defenders have a reason to celebrate. In October 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) recognised for the first time that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.

When Resolution 48/13 was adopted, applause broke out in the normally quiet Council chamber and the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd, tweeted a picture of himself with a raised fist.

“A little bit of joyful emotion at the very staid Human Rights Council, as the UN for the first time recognizes the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment!” he wrote.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called the adoption of the resolution “a breakthrough moment for environmental justice”, saying it would help shield individuals and communities from risks to their health and livelihoods. She encouraged Member States to consider a similar resolution at the UN General Assembly, which has universal membership.

Ms. Andersen said UNEP expected the resolution to embolden governments, legislators, courts, and citizen groups in pursuing substantial elements of the Common Agenda for renewed solidarity, presented last month by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, as well as the 2020 Call to Action on Human Rights.

A new era of action

While more than 80 per cent of UN Member States already recognize the right to a healthy environment through national law, court decisions or regional treaties, Resolution 48/13 still marks a watershed moment in the fight against the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss and pollution and waste.

UNEP research shows that despite a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is still heading for a potentially catastrophic 3.2°C temperature rise this century – far beyond the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C.

And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 24 per cent of all global deaths, roughly 13.7 million deaths a year, are linked to the environment due to risks such as air pollution and chemical exposure.

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The resolution —  proposed by Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland — was supported by more than 1,300 civil society organizations and indigenous peoples’ groups, as well as 15 UN agencies, young activists and business groups.

Costa Rica’s Ambassador Catalina Devandas Aguilar said the Council’s decision would “send a powerful message to communities around the world struggling with climate hardship that they are not alone,” while the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) said its passage marked a new era in rights-based climate policy.

“Today’s decision is the culmination of over 40 years of efforts to recognize the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment,” said Sébastien Duyck, Senior Attorney at CIEL and Campaign Manager for the Human Rights and Climate Change portfolio. “Even though the vast majority of the world recognizes this right, until this afternoon, universal recognition remained elusive.”

‘Real improvements’

Campaigners hope the new HRC resolution will anchor the work of environmental defenders squarely in the human rights framework, conferring extra legitimacy on those who are persecuted for their activism. Last year, over 200 environmental human rights defenders were murdered, making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their land, livelihoods, and ecosystems.

In a second resolution, the Council established a Special Rapporteur dedicated to monitoring human rights in the context of the climate emergency to increase accountability for rights abuses and guide governments on how to uphold their obligations to address climate change.

The HRC decision came just weeks before the crucial UN Climate Change Conference, COP 26, in Glasgow, Scotland, where campaigners called for more decisive commitments to protect nature and decarbonize global economies, reflecting the sentiment inherent in Resolution 48/13.

“We must not stop now,” said Marc Limon, Executive Director of the Universal Rights Group, a think tank focused on international human rights policy.

“Our next stop must be the recognition of this new universal right by the General Assembly. Thereafter, we need the amazing global coalition built over the last two years to keep pushing, so that this historic moment at the UN translates into real improvements in people’s lives and the environment.”


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