The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has announced the winners of the 2021 Champions of the Earth, and women swept the environmental honours. Also new in UNEP’s history of the Champions, they received a record number of nominations from all over the world.
“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,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.
Since 2005, the UN’s highest environmental honour has been awarded to the world’s most dynamic environmental leaders. It’s been awarded to 101 laureates: 25 world leaders, 62 individuals and 14 organisations.
This year’s award recognises laureates in four categories: Inspiration and Action, Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision, and Science and Innovation.
UNEP’s 2021 Champions of the Earth are:
1. Inspiration and Action:
The Sea Women of Melanesia from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. 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.
2. Policy Leadership:
Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados was honoured for her strong voice for a sustainable world from the global south, consistently raising the alarm about the vulnerability of Small Island Developing States due to the climate emergency. A driving force for climate action across the Latin American and the Caribbean region, Barbados has adopted ambitious renewable energy targets, committing to a fossil-fuel free electricity sector and transport by 2030. She also co-chairs the One Health Global Leaders’ Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.
3. Entrepreneurial Vision:
Maria Kolesnikova of the Kyrgyz Republic. Honoured in the Entrepreneurial Vision category, she is an environmental activist, youth advocate and head of MoveGreen, which under her 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, PM10 and nitrogen dioxide.
4. Science and Innovation:
Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka from Uganda. Honoured in this category, Dr. Gladys is the first-ever wildlife veterinarian of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and is a recognised 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 using the ‘One Health’ approach.
This year’s awards highlight the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which runs until 2030, the same deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals. “As we enter into a decisive decade, to cut emissions and protect and restore ecosystems, UNEP’s Champions of the Earth 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,” added Andersen.