UN makes President Mohamed Nasheed ‘Champion of the Earth’

President Mohamed Nasheed has been awarded the UN Champion of the Earth Award by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Seoul, Republic of South Korea.

The awards were held in conjunction with the Business for Environment Summit (B4E), which is being attended by representatives of business, government and civil society who are working to promote a greener economy.

The award celebrates those who are encouraging a low carbon, resource efficient 21st century. The UN awards individuals “who embody commitment and vision towards environmental leadership through their action and their influence.”

One senior government official described Nasheed’s award as “quite a big deal – basically, the only thing that trumps this as an environment prize is a Nobel Peace prize, which they occasionally give for environmental causes.”

UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, said “President Nasheed is not only an articulate voice for the vulnerable and the poor facing the challenges of global warming, but a politician who is showcasing to the rest of the world how a transition to climate neutrality can be achieved and how all nations, no matter how big or how small, can contribute.”

President Nasheed said he was “delighted to accept this prize on behalf of the whole of Maldives. It goes to show that by doing the right thing, a small country can make a big impact on the world stage.”

President Nasheed also spoke of the damage industrialised countries have done to the environment, but said “given the opportunity, I believe that we would have done exactly the same.”

“We’re no better humans than the industrialised world. We’ve not been able to destroy as much as them…because we did not get the opportunity to destroy as much,” he said.

“We’ve destroyed whatever we can, and they destroyed whatever they can. Of course the magnitude of destruction by us is far less than the magnitude of destruction by others.”

He said the fact other countries had created more pollution than the Maldives did not mean they carry the burden of fixing the problem, and said that is why he is aiming to make the Maldives carbon neutral by 2020.

President Nasheed assured carbon neutrality is not only possible, but “it’s economically viable, financially feasible and there is no reason why we shouldn’t do it.”

He said the idea to be carbon neutral was “based very much on solid economic arguments.”

The president noted he doesn’t think it’s “humanly possible to do nothing about the environmental impacts” and was hopeful people could “bring the earth to it’s natural balance.”

“We still have time and we should act as quickly as possible,” he said.

He was awarded in the category of Policy and Leadership for his role in promoting the fight against climate change in forums such as last year’s Copenhagen COP15 Climate Change Summit, and for his efforts to raise awareness on climate change at a global level.

The UN commended him for his campaign to protect the coral reefs of the Maldives and for urging other countries to follow his initiative to turn the Maldives into the first carbon-neutral country by 2020.

President Nasheed ended his speech by saying “the climate crisis threatens us all. What happens to the Maldives today, happens to the rest of the world tomorrow. We are all Maldivians now.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said “the president is delighted and is saying he is humbled. He thinks the award gives a very good name to the country.”

President Nasheed will receive his trophy at a gala dinner tonight in Seoul.

President Nasheed was one of the six winners of the prestigious awards, chosen from the worlds of government, science, business and entertainment. The other five winners were Bharrat Jagdeo, President of Guyana; Prince Mostapha Zaher, Afghanistan’s Director General of the National Environmental Protection Agency; Taro Takahashi, Japanese earth scientist; Zhou Xun, Chinese actress; and Vinod Khosala, a green energy entrepreneur and co-founder of Sun Microsystems from the USA.