Praising her "pioneering struggle" against deforestation and for women's rights and democracy, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today he was delighted by the awarding of this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Professor Wangari Maathai of Kenya.
Mr. Annan hailed today's announcement by the Nobel committee, which he said clearly shared his vision that human security depends on close links between "peace, development and responsible stewardship of the environment," according to a statement issued by his spokesman.
"Selfless and steadfast, Ms. Maathai has been a champion of the environment, of women, of Africa, and of anyone concerned about our future security."
The first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Professor Maathai is Deputy Environment and Natural Resources Minister in her country's Government and has been a lawmaker since December 2002. She also founded the Green Belt Movement, which has planted more than 20 million trees across Africa.
Mr. Annan, who won the 2001 prize along with the UN, said Professor Maathai has played a valuable role at many UN conferences, including the Earth Summit.
For its part, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) welcomed the honour for Professor Maathai, who is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at UNEP's first Global Women's Assembly on the Environment on Monday in Nairobi.
Professor Maathai has spent decades as "a fearless opponent of the grabbing of public land and the destruction of forests, and a vigorous advocate for democracy and environmental protection," Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said in a statement.
Mr. Toepfer added Professor Maathai is a role model for "us all, especially the women and children of Africa, who shoulder so much of Africa's burden of poverty, conflict and environmental degradation, and who so much deserve role models to show them the way to a better future."
When interviewed for a documentary by UNEP, Professor Maathai said: "I love the trees; I love the colour. To me they represent life and they represent hope. I think it is the green colour. I tell people I think heaven is green."