CHAMPION OF THE EARTH – PRIME MINISTER RECIEVES UN’S HIGHEST ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD
12 December 2020
Historic moment for Fiji and the Pacific
Nadi, FIJI – The UN has announced six laureates of the 2020 Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honour. The Champions were chosen for their transformative impact on the environment and their leadership in urging bold and decisive action on behalf of the planet and its inhabitants. In a historic moment for Fiji and the Pacific, Honourable Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has been named as the recipient in the Policy Leadership category for his global climate action work and his commitment to climate-responsive national development.
Speaking from the award ceremony at the UN75 Community Day in Prince Charles Park, Nadi today, the Honourable Prime Minister said, “Let me begin by saying how deeply honoured I am to be the recipient of the 2020 Champion of the Earth Award.
“I’d like to thank the United Nations for this incredible recognition. But as I stand here today to accept this award, I do so not for myself, but on behalf of every Fijian, every Pacific Islander, and every person on Earth whose lives have been impacted, uprooted, and even lost to climate change.
"Over the past few years, starting with Fiji’s presidency of COP23, we have been among the world’s most vocal proponents for climate action. As your prime minister, I’ve had the privilege of amplifying your voices through speaking engagements throughout the world,” Prime Minister Bainimarama said.
“This is not a trophy for something we have already achieved. Five years to the day after the Paris Agreement was signed, our eyes are set firmly on 2050. We must not lose sight of the ultimate goal: Stopping global warming and saving the planet.”
The Champions of the Earth award annually recognizes outstanding leaders from government, civil society and the private sector. The Champions of the Earth inspire, defend, mobilize and act to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time. This year’s awards recognise laureates in the categories of Lifetime Achievement, Inspiration and Action, Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision and Science and Innovation.
Congratulating this year’s laureates, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “In the middle of a global pandemic, with societies struggling, economies stretched to their limits and an escalating biodiversity and climate crisis, we need to act boldly and urgently to repair our relationship with nature and take the path of sustainable development. Each year, the United Nations honours these environmental champions for their leadership and vision. Their efforts confront the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.”
Joining Prime Minister as 2020 Champions of the Earth are Dr. Fabian Leendertz (Germany), honoured in the Science and Innovation category for his discoveries in zoonotics and his work in One Health. Mindy Lubber (USA), recognized in the Entrepreneurial Vision category for her commitment to turning capital markets green by mobilizing top investors and companies and making the business case for climate action and sustainability Nemonte Nenquimo (Ecuador), awarded in the Inspiration and Action category for her leadership and unifying work with indigenous communities that halted drilling in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. Yacouba Sawadogo (Burkina Faso), also honoured in the Inspiration and Action category for teaching farmers his traditional nature-based solution to regenerate their soil and turn barren land into arable land and forest across Africa.
This year’s champions are joined by Professor Robert D. Bullard (USA) who was awarded the Champion of the Earth Lifetime Achievement award for his commitment and service to environmental justice.
In his opening speech, UN Resident Coordinator in Fiji, Sanaka Samarasinha said, “As we close off a year that was dominated by a pandemic and look to a new year that is healthier and safer for humanity, COVID recovery and our planet’s repair must be the two sides of the same coin. From crisis comes opportunity. The pandemic will one day be over, perhaps in a year or five, but the climate emergency will not. To lock in future generations into industries that are killing the planet for them through financing that we are borrowing from those very same future generations is at best unconscionable.”
“Under the Prime Minister’s leadership, Fiji has taken bold and decisive actions to draw global attention to the consequences of climate change and rising sea levels. The country was the first to ratify the Paris Agreement and is pursuing a national strategy to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 across its entire economy,” he said.
By amplifying news of the significant work being done on the environmental frontlines, the Champions of the Earth awards aim to inspire and motivate more people to act for nature. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Champions were announced online, on the cusp of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which starts in early 2021. The awards are part of UNEP’s #ForNature campaign to rally momentum for the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Kunming in May 2021, and catalyze climate action all the way to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021.