Press Releases March 2006 - UNEP Announces Champions of the Earth 2006 - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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UNEP Announces Champions of the Earth 2006

Singapore to Host Top United Nations Environment Prize

Singapore/Nairobi, 23 March 2006 - Seven ‘green’ leaders are to be celebrated as the 2006 Champions of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The awards, presented for the second time, recognize prominent and inspirational environmental leaders from each region of the world. Through leadership, vision and creativity, each Champion has made an impact at the policy level.

As announced today, the 2006 Champions of the Earth are:

Tewolde Gebre Egziabher of Ethiopia, a champion against the patenting of life forms and for community rights in Africa.

Tommy Koh of Singapore for his contributions to the cause of the environment by chairing the Earth Summit and the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea.

Mikhail Gorbachev of the Russian Federation, a champion in the field of international environmental politics and for conflict prevention on waterways globally.

Rosa Elena Simeon Negrin of Cuba, a champion of small island developing states and a subscriber and regional force behind the philosophy of ‘thinking globally and acting locally”.

The Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), a champion for over 15 years in the field of women’s economic, social and gender rights and a beacon for the empowerment of women across the environment and development debate.

Mohamed El-Ashry of Egypt, a champion for the wise use of natural resources and a former head of the multi-billion Global Environment Facility, which helps developing countries onto the sustainable development path.

Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s first female vice-president and a champion of cleaner production in the petrochemical industry.

The winners will be honoured on 21 April at a gala event hosted by UNEP, the Singapore Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and the Singapore Tourism Board, with the support of various sponsors and partners including the Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings (APRIL), the Lien Foundation and Nanyang Technological University.

Other supporters of the ceremony include: CNN, Fortune, Time, Eco 4 The World Foundation, Singapore Environment Council, Channel News Asia and Today.

The event and the inspiring stories of the Champions will be broadcast across the Asia Pacific region by CNN and featured in such leading publications as Time and Fortune magazines.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, thanked the sponsors and the people of Singapore for supporting and hosting the prestigious event.

“I believe that this event comes at an exciting time, where the last 12 months will go down as a period in history when we rediscovered the crucial importance of the environment for our economic, social and spiritual lives,” he said.

“A renaissance in environmental politics and policy does not come in a vacuum. It emerges as a result of the collective efforts of governments, organizations and private business. It needs the long-term commitment and vision of men and women. It needs people who have been and continue to be Champions of the Earth,” added Mr Toepfer.


Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher – Ethiopia

Tewolde Berhan Gebre EgziabherTewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher has put much of his energy into negotiations at various biodiversity-related fora – in particular the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He has built a strong group of well-prepared African negotiators who initiated and took the lead in the Group of 77 and China Group. As a result, Africa has come out with united, strong and progressive positions, such as no patents on living materials and the recognition of community rights, which have strengthened the G77 and China’s negotiating positions.

He was instrumental in securing recommendations from the African Union (AU) encouraging African countries to develop and implement community rights, a common position on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and a clear stance against patents on life. He also guided the drafting of the AU model legislation for community rights, which is being used as the common model by all African countries.
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Tommy Koh – Singapore

Tommy KohTommy Koh has had a life-long love of nature. It began with his long years in the Boy Scout Movement. In Singapore, he is the Patron of The Nature Society (Singapore), Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Centre on Environmental Law and Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Master's degree on environment management at the National University of Singapore.

At the international level, he has made significant contributions to the protection of the environment and sustainable development. He was elected to chair the preparatory committee for the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development. He chaired the main committee at the Earth Summit. Subsequently, the UN Secretary-General appointed him to the High-Level Advisory Board on Sustainable Development.

He also spent a decade helping to negotiate the landmark 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He was elected President of that Conference in its critical final year. The Convention represents an important chapter in the protection of the marine environment.

For his contributions to the Environment, he was made a Commander of the Order of the Golden Ark by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands and received the Elizabeth Haub Prize for Environmental Law from the Free University of Brussels and the World Conservation Union (IUCN).


H. E. Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev – Russia

Mikhail GorbachevMikhail Gorbachev has been actively promoting environmental awareness and responsibility, especially among political leaders, for well over a decade – long before sustainable development became the central international concern it is today. As President of the former USSR, he made policy changes aimed at halting the worst contamination and destruction in the country, changes such as closing thousands of heavily polluting factories and preventing a major scheme to divert the rivers of Siberia.

He learned first-hand the critical environmental, strategic and social importance of water resources as State Secretary for Agriculture when he was faced with the terrible calamity of the Aral Sea. This experience led to ‘Water for Life and Peace’ becoming a major focus of Green Cross International, the organization he founded in 1993. Since then, he has been committed to improving water management and access, and, in particular, the prevention of conflicts over shared water –at village and international level.

He worked tirelessly to encourage shared water to become a source of cooperation among Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, and engaged in mediation efforts at the highest level. He has personally supported Green Cross water conflict prevention initiatives in Africa, South America, Central Europe, and in his own native river basin, the Volga. His involvement has been critical to breaking deadlocks and encouraging parties to negotiate. Most recently, in 2003, he launched a Local and Regional Authorities Water Initiative aimed at strengthening decentralized cooperation and North-South solidarity to provide drinking water for the world’s most desperate people while respecting local cultures and ecosystems.


Dr. Rosa Elena Simeon Negrin – Cuba

Rosa Elena Simeon NegrinDr. Rosa Elena Simeon Negrin’s passion for the environment is well documented and is a shining example for the world to follow.

Her steadfast, committed and selfless work has been vital for fostering the notion of sustainability and for raising the environmental awareness of Cubans. She took on a position of leadership, which continued for some 20 years, at a time when the issue of environment was beginning to feature prominently in the political agenda of governments and international organizations. She was able to translate the best environmental practices into everyday life in Cuba.

In 1989, she participated, for the first time, in the Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose sixth meeting took place in Brasilia that year. Since that time, until her death in 2004, Dr. Negrin played a prominent widely acclaimed role in regional forums.

In addition to directing Cuba’s preparations for the Rio Summit, she also presided over her country’s delegation. She always had a clear vision of the concept of “thinking globally and acting locally” and she brought this vision to international forums. In 1994, she participated in the development of the Alliance of Small Island States Summit (AOSIS). By that time she was already an accomplished international mediator and was able to bring the experience that she had gained from her participation in the Rio Summit to bear on that forum.


Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) – USA

WEDOWEDO, established in 1990 by former U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug and feminist activist and journalist Mim Kelber, advocates for women’s empowerment and gender equality in global policy-making forums, promoting women as decision makers for the achievement of economic, social and gender justice, a healthy, peaceful planet, and human rights for all.

WEDO is a leader in organizing women for international conferences and actions. In the lead up to the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), WEDO brought together more than 1,500 diverse women from more than 80 countries for the World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet, where they produced Women’s Action Agenda 21, a comprehensive platform they used at UNCED to put women’s rights and gender equality on the official sustainable development agenda for the first time. WEDO pioneered a Women’s Caucus at the United Nations through which advocates from around the world worked together to gain crucial commitments at UNCED and in other key international development conferences of the 1990s.

Today WEDO works to ensure that these government commitments are put into action. Even as major global forces—such as privatization of basic services and natural resources, deregulation, increased military spending, religious extremism—are undermining the gains of the past decades, WEDO continues to galvanize the energy and spirit of women worldwide for a healthy and peaceful planet.
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Mohamed El-Ashry – Egypt

Mohamed El-AshryMohamed El-Ashry’s contributions to protecting the environment and the wise management of natural resources span more than 35 years—pre-dating the first Earth Day in 1970. His contributions have been made throughout a career that spans academia, public sector institutions, non-governmental organizations, think tanks and international institutions.

Perhaps Mr. El-Ashry’s most significant achievement is his 12-year role in the re-structuring, management, and operation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), for which he served as its first Chief Executive Officer and Chairman. Under his leadership, the GEF grew from a modest pilot programme with less than 30 members and an $800 million purse to the largest single source of funding for the global environment with 174 member countries. During his tenure, the GEF allocated US $4.5 billion in grants and leveraged US $12 billion in additional financing for the global environment, for a portfolio of more than 1,200 projects in 140 developing countries.

In his three terms of service, he has mobilized from donor countries a total of $7 billion in three replenishments. The first two consisted of $2 billion each. In 2002, for the third replenishment, donors cast an extraordinary vote of confidence in the GEF by replenishing it with $3 billion.


Massoumeh Ebtekar – Iran (Special Prize)

Massoumeh EbtekarMassoumeh Ebtekar’s philosophy that sustainable development depends on maintaining the balance between economic growth and environmental concerns is one that the United Nations shares. As Iran's first woman vice-president, she has led efforts to tackle air-pollution problems in Tehran and promote the protection of marine life in the Persian Gulf.

Ms. Ebtekar has influenced the integration of environmental considerations into the industry and energy sectors in Iran and, thanks to her efforts, clean production technologies and environmental accounting and management systems have been integrated into the country’s petrochemical industry. Under her guidance, the Department of Environment is working with the government and the private sector to create necessary incentives and economic mechanisms for enhancing environmental awareness and management capacity.

Note to Editors

Background on the Champions of the Earth prize and all the laureates, including biographies and photographs, is available from or from UNEP DCPI at

The Champions of the Earth award, a new international environment award established in 2004, will be presented by UNEP each year to outstanding environmental achievers and leaders.

No monetary reward is attached to the prize. Each laureate receives a trophy made of recycled metal especially designed by the Kenyan sculptor Kioko. The trophy represents the fundamental elements for life on Earth – sun, air, land and water.

UNEP invites nominations from individuals who have made a significant and recognized contribution globally, regionally and beyond, to the protection and sustainable management of the Earth’s environment and natural resources. Candidates are judged by a senior UNEP panel with input from UNEP’s regional offices.

Journalists wishing to attend the award ceremony and/or arrange interviews with UNEP or the Champions laureates should contact:
Eric Falt, Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information (DCPI), on Tel: +254-20-762.3292, Mobile: +254-733-682.656 or +1-917-434-9338, E-mail:;

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254-20-762.3084, Mobile: +254-733-632.755, or +41-79 596 5737, E-mail:

Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox, UNEP Head of Special Events, on Tel: +254-20-762.3401, E-mail:
Satwant Kaur, Information Officer, UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, on Tel: +662-280-3829, E-mail:

If there is no prompt response, please contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: +254 20 7623088, Mobile: +254 720 173968, E-mail:

UNEP News Release 2006/18




Further Resources

Arabic version

Russian version

Chinese version

Champions of the Earth 2006
Background on the Champions of the Earth prize and all the laureates, including biographies and photographs.

Singapore to Host UN Champions of the Earth Awards
Press release October 2005

Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Singapore (MEWR)

Singapore Tourism Board

Environmental Awards


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