Mongolian President, Maasai Warrior named among six ‘Champions of the Earth’ awardees

Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj

Mongolia’s President Tsakhia Elbegdorj and Samson Parashina, a Kenyan Maasai conservationist, were on Monday, June 4, 2012, named among six winners of the United Nation’s Champions of the Earth 2012 award, given to those whose actions and leadership have had a positive impact on the environment.

Making up the six awardees were Brazilian banker Fábio C. Barbosa, renewable energy entrepreneur Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, renowned Swiss aeronaut Dr. Bertrand Piccard and Dutch Scientist Dr. Sander van der Leeuw.

Presenting the LG Electronics-sponsored awards at a ceremony in Rio, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the winners have demonstrated commitment to building a sustainable future for the planet through their work, which encompasses active green policies, groundbreaking clean energy developments and community work that has helped conserve critical ecosystems.

“As the world heads to Brazil for Rio+20 later this month these six individuals, deservedly named as Champions, demonstrate that committed, concrete action can have a transformative effect on countries, communities and businesses,” Mr. Steiner added.

He stated further, “On the eve of Rio+20, the Champions of Earth 2012 should be an inspiration for world leaders to take the bold decisions needed on behalf of seven billion people.” “In other words, to put in place the pathways that will scale-up and accelerate a Green Economy, while reforming the international institutions charged with realising sustainable development and poverty eradication in order to deliver the Future We Want.”

Specifically, the ceremony attended by UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen, Brazil’s Minister of the Environment Izabella Teixeira and Rio+20 Secretary-General Sha Zukang, presented President Tsakhia Elbegdorj of Mongolia with the Policy Leadership Award: for delivering on promises to put the environment at the forefront of policies.

Fábio C. Barbosa (Brazil) and Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber (UAE) also jointly received the Entrepreneurial Vision Award: for their business efforts in sustainability and promoting renewable energy and clean technology respectively.

For his part, Dr. Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland’s award was for Inspiration and Action:  for raising global awareness of the possibilities of renewable energy-driven transport, while the Science and Innovation Award went to Dr. Sander Van der Leeuw (Netherlands), for his research, which applies lessons learned from history to understand why humanity is not facing up to the long-term issue of environmental change.

Samson Parashina of Kenya’s Special Category – Grassroots Initiatives Award on the other hand, was for leading community efforts to conserve Kenya’s Tsavo-Amboseli ecosystem.

Mr. Parashina, whose Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) takes a grassroots approach to conservation in Kenya, said the award “energised” him to push on with his work.

A citation accompanying the award said “At a time where poaching of elephants and rhino is on the rise in Kenya, leading to deadly gun battles with wildlife rangers, Mr. Parashina’s organisation is using a community-led approach to prevent poaching through education and patrols. Mr. Parashina is also head guide at Campi ya Kanzi, started in 1996 by his long-term collaborators Luca Belpietro and Antonella Bonomi. The hotel was named by CNN as one of ten top luxury eco-hotels around the world.”

Mr. Parashina’s nomination was by actor Edward Norton, who serves on the board of MWCT and is the UN’s Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity.

Recommending him for the award, Edward Norton said, “He’s one of my heroes and I’m in this role to celebrate people like him.” “The work he has achieved is nothing short of inspirational and a truly authentic example of an indigenous community addressing the sustainability question within the context of deep commitment to traditional cultural values.”

In his response after receiving the award, Mongolian President, H.E. Elbegdorj, who has prioritised green policies and environmental awareness for youth, said his formative years as a herdsman living close to nature helped shape his sustainable outlook.

“This is a great honour, not only for me but for our nation. One day I will give up my Presidency … but I will continue as a Champion of the Earth,” he said.

On his part, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the Chief Executive Officer of Masdar, which is developing a pioneering low-carbon city in Abu Dhabi and investing globally in clean energy innovation and deployment, welcomed the award and called on the world to work together to face the challenge of climate change.

“The energy solutions the world needs today cannot be driven by one country alone,” he said. “They will be stimulated by collaboration, and founded on public-private partnerships. As a global community, we have the responsibility to act collectively and address the challenges we face.”

Paying glowing tribute to the first president of UAE, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber said; “The UAE’s environmental stewardship was instilled by our nation’s founding father and president, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He encouraged us to conserve our environment and preserve it for future generations.  Today, safeguarding our environment and economic sustainability are at the core of the UAE’s development plans. It is a great honour for me, Masdar, and the people of the UAE to be recognised for our efforts in fulfilling Sheikh Zayed’s environmental legacy through this award.”

Winner in the Science and Innovation category, Dr. van der Leeuw, who has spent his career studying human-environment relations and invention and innovation in society, applying the lessons learned from history to help understand why humanity is not facing up to the long-term issue of environmental change, said the award made him feel “more confident” about using his research to educate future generations about the need for sustainability.

“Sustainability is all about changing mindsets,” he said. “It is about individuals, groups, and countries beginning to think differently about everything they do in life. We can actually make a huge difference, ” he stressed.

According to a press release from UNEP announcing this year’s winners, the inclusion of Piccard, who with Brian Jones was the first to complete a non-stop balloon flight around the globe, marks the second year in a row that a Swiss who has circumnavigated the globe was included among the winners.

Last year, Louis Palmer who led a fleet of electric vehicles around the world in 80 days and earlier became the first person to circle the earth in a solar-powered vehicle, won the Inspiration and Action award. The release said Piccard, who is 54, aims to become the first person to travel the circumference of the globe in a piloted fixed-wing aircraft using only solar power.

Receiving his award, Dr. Bertrand Piccard said; “Exploration in the 21st century is no longer about conquering new territories, but about developing clean technologies in order to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Champions of the Earth, which was launched in 2005, is the UN’s flagship environmental award and has since its inception recognised 51 individuals and organisations for their leadership, vision, inspiration and action on the environment.

The list of previous Champions laureates include former US Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Chinese actress and environmental advocate Zhou Xun, the Women’s Environment & Development Organisation (WEDO) and global music legend Angélique Kidjo.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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