On January 12, 2022, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced the 2021 winners of the Champions of the Earth award, which recognizes environmental restoration leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector.
The selected Champions’ projects are expected to reinforce the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030).
UNEP notes that neither the SDGs nor the Paris Agreement on climate change can be achieved without reviving ecosystems on a massive scale.
The Decade is led by UNEP and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), aiming to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide, including by reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems.
The 2021 Champions of the Earth are:
- Policy Leadership: Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, honored for raising the alarm about the vulnerability of small island developing States (SIDS) to climate change and driving climate action in Latin America and the Caribbean. Under Mottley’s leadership Barbados has adopted ambitious renewable energy targets and implemented conservation and restoration projects;
- Inspiration and Action: The Sea Women of Melanesia, selected for training local women in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to monitor and assess the impacts of coral bleaching on endangered reefs;
- Science and Innovation: Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, an authority on primates and zoonotic diseases, the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s first wildlife veterinarian, and head of Conservation Through Public Health; and
- Entrepreneurial Vision: Maria Kolesnikova, youth advocate and head of MoveGreen, an organization working to monitor and improve air quality in Central Asia, which has developed an app that collects data on the concentration of pollutants every 20 minutes from the Kyrgyz cities of Bishkek and Osh.
Announcing the awards, UNEP Executive Director Inger Anderson said these four Champions “remind us that we have in our hands the solutions, the knowledge and the technology to limit climate change and avoid ecological collapse.”
As part of the Decade, UNEP and FAO will select the ten World Restoration Flagships—the first, best, or most promising examples of large-scale and long-term restoration efforts—to be announced in late 2022.
Flagships will be selected based on the 10 Restoration Principles of the UN Decade in a process led by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration’s Science Task Force and the Task Force on Best Practices.
Nominations for restoration flagships are due by 31 March 2022. The Decade partners will confer “official UN Decade Flagship status” on selected efforts.
UNEP has also issued the ‘Ecosystem Restoration Playbook: A practical guide to healing the planet.’ It outlines approaches to restoring eight key types of ecosystem: forests, farmlands, grassland and savannahs, rivers and lakes, oceans and coasts, towns and cities, peatlands, and mountains. The 21-page guide aims to encourage the revival of ecosystems – which requires “careful planning and patient implementation.” It introduces a range of actions that can slow and halt the degradation of ecosystems and foster their recovery.