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2021 Champions of the Earth

The UN’s highest environmental award goes to a prime minister, a scientist, indigenous women and an entrepreneur
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Mia Mottley

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has today (07 December) announced its 2021 Champions of the Earth.

The Champions were chosen for their transformative impact on the environment and their leadership in advancing bold and decisive action on behalf of people and the planet.

Since its inception in 2005, the annual Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honour, has been awarded to some of the world’s most dynamic environmental leaders.

So far it has been awarded to 101 laureates, including 25 world leaders, 62 individuals and 14 organisations.

This year,UNEP received a record number of nominations from all over the world.

‘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.

‘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.’

Executive director of UNEP

Champions of the Earth

UNEP’s 2021 Champions of the Earth are:


Honoured in the Policy Leadership category for her powerful voice for a sustainable world from the global south, Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados (main image) consistently raises the alarm about the vulnerability of Small Island Developing States due to the climate emergency.

The Prime Minister is a driving force for climate action across the Latin American and the Caribbean region – the first to agree on the Action Plan for the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration.

Under her leadership, Barbados has adopted ambitious renewable energy targets, committing to a fossil-fuel free electricity sector and transport by 2030.

At the same time, Barbados is implementing numerous conservation and restoration projects, from forests, through cities, to the coastline and the ocean.

She also co-chairs the One Health Global Leaders’ Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.


Honoured in the Inspiration and Action category, The Sea Women of Melanesia train 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.


Honoured in the Science and Innovation category, was the first-ever wildlife veterinarian of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka is a recognised world authority on primates and zoonotic diseases.

As the CEO and co-founder of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), she leads the implementation of three integrated strategic programmes using the ‘One Health’ approach.


Honoured in the Entrepreneurial Vision category, Maria Kolesnikova is an environmental activist, youth advocate and head of MoveGreen, an organisation working to monitor and improve air quality in the central Asia region.

Under Kolesnikova, MoveGreen developed an app called, 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, including nitrogen dioxide, PM 2.5 and PM 10.

Decade on Ecosystem Restoration

By amplifying the significant work being done on the environmental frontlines, the Champions of the Earth awards aim to inspire and motivate more people to take to address the triple planetary crisis – climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution, chemicals and waste.

This year’s awards highlight the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which runs until 2030, coinciding with the deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

By halting and reversing the degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, we can prevent the loss of one million endangered species.

Scientists say restoring only 15% of ecosystems in priority areas – and thereby improving habitats – can cut extinctions by 60%.

There has never been a more urgent need to revive damaged ecosystems than now.

Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people.

Ecosystem restoration will only succeed if everyone joins the #GenerationRestoration movement to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide.

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