The United Nations announced on Tuesday that Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley were among four women who swept the UN’s 2021 “Champions of the Earth” Awards.
The other honorees were The Sea Women of Melanesia, from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands; Ugandan scientist Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka; and Maria Kolesnikova, an entrepreneur from the Kyrgyz Republic.
According to the UN Environment Program (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, mobilize and act to tackle the greatest environmental challenges of our time, including ecosystem protection and restoration,” said the UN agency in a statement.
The Champions of the Earth award is the UN’s highest environmental honor.
UNEP said 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 said it 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,” she added.
UNEP said Mottley 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 called the Barbados 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, UNEP said Barbados has adopted ambitious renewable energy targets, committing to a fossil-fuel free electricity and transportation sector by 2030.
At the same time, UNEP said the country is implementing numerous conservation and restoration projects, from forests, through cities, to the coastline and the ocean.
Mottley 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.
UNEP said 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.
The population of the Solomon Islands, a nation made up of hundreds of islands in the South Pacific, mostly live on high islands, UNEP said.
It said the Sea Women of Melanesia, from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, trains local women to monitor impacts of coral bleaching.
Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, from Uganda, was given the top honor in the Science and Innovation category.
UNEP said she was the first-ever wildlife veterinarian of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, adding that she is “a recognized world authority on primates and zoonotic diseases.”
As the chief executive officer and co-founder of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), UNEP said Kalema-Zikusoka leads the implementation of three integrated strategic programs.
UNEP said Maria Kolesnikova was honoured 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 the central Asia region.
“Under Ms. Kolesnikova, the organization developed an app called AQ.kg, which collects real-time data, every one to three hours from the two largest Kyrgyz cities, Bishkek and Osh, about the concentration of pollutants in the air,” UNEP said.
It said this year’s awards highlight the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which runs until 2030, coinciding with the deadline for achieving the UN’s 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, UNEP said the Champions of the Earth award has distinguished 101 laureates, including 25 world leaders, 62 individuals and 14 organizations.