Battle against global warming at local level honoured with UN environmental prize

Battle against global warming at local level honoured with UN environmental prize

Ms. Park and Mr. Rezwan
Highlighting efforts at the local level to combat global warming, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today awarded a major prize to two non-governmental initiatives in South Africa and Bangladesh that are veterans in the front line against climate change.

Highlighting efforts at the local level to combat global warming, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today awarded a major prize to two non-governmental initiatives in South Africa and Bangladesh that are veterans in the front line against climate change.

Jeunesse Park of South Africa and Bangladeshi non-governmental organization (NGO) Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha are the co-winners of UNEP’s Sasakawa Prize 2007, a $200,000 award given yearly to individuals or institutions who have made a substantial contribution to the protection and management of the environment.

“Leadership is urgently needed if the international community is to rise to the challenge of climate change – leadership from the United Nations; governments, scientists; business and cities, but also leadership from individuals and civil society organizations working on the ground,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said.

Ms. Park has worked on climate change since 1990 as founder of Food and Trees for Africa (FTFA), South Africa’s only greening and food gardening NGO. She initiated the design of the country’s first carbon calculator to make it easy and affordable for governments, institutions and communities to offset carbon emissions by planting trees.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha was founded in 1998 to help poor and marginalized people from the remote Chalanbeel region of Bangladesh and to combat the effects of climate change which has increased devastating flooding in recent years. It uses the extensive river network to spread environmental education by boats which travel from farm to farm bringing solar power and new technologies to avoid problems such as soil erosion, ground and water contamination, over-fishing, and habitat destruction.

“These two outstanding winners of the Sasakawa Prize 2007 embody leadership in its finest form – namely creative and determined action that demonstrates real and tangible difference to the people and communities they serve,” Mr. Steiner said.

“In doing so our award winners are proving that combating climate change is not only do-able but links to the wider environmental, social and economic aims enshrined in targets such as the Millennium Development Goals,” he added, referring to the targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000 to slash global hunger, poverty and other social ills by 2015.

The prize is sponsored by UNEP and the Nippon Foundation of Japan, whose chairman is Yohei Sasakawa.

“It has been rewarding to recently see the growing interest in this crucial global crisis and to know that we have played a small part in facilitating action in South Africa,” Ms. Park said, pledging to use the prize money to develop climate change awareness and education materials to Government, business and disadvantaged and underserved communities.

“Since we are currently lobbying big business in this country, the award would assist us with highlighting the importance of climate change, and options for addressing this, amongst the larger carbon emitters of South Africa,” she added.

Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan, Shidhulai Executive Director, said the prize will help his organization “provide clean solar-powered lighting and educate thousands of people on literacy, sustainable farming and climate change,” as well as promote self-reliance for hundreds of villages in Bangladesh.

“Shidhulai as a local organization is proving that it is possible to deal with this climate change, to tackle pollution, and at the same time, to lift people out of poverty. We hope our work in using boats to adapt and cope with climate change and improve the quality of life will serve as an inspiration,” he added.