UN Awards: Long life to the planet!

UN Awards: Long life to the planet!

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Whether it’s about monitoring deforestation in the great Amazon or about designing a wildlife corridor in the Sonoran Desert, the geospatial fraternity has always put its best foot forward to support environmental conservation and development. UNEP’s list of 2013 Champion of the Earth Awardees reflects that the world has finally started recognising these efforts in a big way

How many awards ceremonies would witness both super models and techies sharing the stage? How about a function where techies and politicians would be nominated for the same award? Not many, we suppose. In late September though, the United Nation’s Champions of the Earth 2013 award ceremony — jam-packed with techies, models, social activists and politicians — broke all silos to underline the cause of environmental conservation and development. The awards underlined and recognised the contribution of geospatial fraternity in environmental conservation and development as four of the seven awardees were the ones who have been using and promoting geospatial technology to make our earth a better place to live.

Every year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) brings to the world’s attention a number of environmental crusaders by recognising their efforts and felicitating them with the ‘Champions of the Earth’ award. This year too, the ceremony held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York was full and colourful. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, welcomed the august gathering to a night of honouring leaders from across the globe.


From left to right:

  • Jack Dangermond, President, Esri
  • Brian McClendon, Vice President, Google Earth
  • Dr Veerbhadran Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California
  • Izabella Teixeira, Environment Minister, Brazil
  • Supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who also happens to be the UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, added an extra sparkle to the evening. A chirpy “We are back!” from her got the ball rolling. The gathering could really sense the sincerity of the entire programme when the names of the awardees were announced. The list included stalwarts from different walks of life. Esri’s co-founder and President Jack Dangermond and Google Earth’s founder and Vice President Brian McClendon received the UN’s highest environmental accolade for their ‘Entrepreneurial Vision’.

    Dangermond, widely recognised as the father of GIS, was honoured for pioneering geospatial technology for conservation and development of environment. Esri, which started as Environmental Systems Research Institute, focuses on providing scientists and environmental managers with tools to study and model how the environment is responding to natural and man-made factors. He enlightened the gathering with his short and crisp speech about how science and best technology could design a better future for a more sustainable earth.

    McClendon received the award for providing a powerful tool to monitor the state of the environment, allowing researchers to detect deforestation, classify land cover and estimate forest biomass and carbon and thus demonstrate the scale of problems and illustrate solutions. McClendon mentioned that Google would also want to do a lot to change how we think about the environment and how we see it.

    Dr Veerbhadran Ramanathan, a distinguished professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, was another geospatial technology enthusiast to be felicitated at the ceremony. His research in Climate and Atmospheric Science, and achievements in developing unmanned aircraft platforms for tracking brown cloud pollution worldwide have already earned him accolades across the globe. “I am very honoured to accept this prestigious award, which recognises the critical role of science and research in addressing the major environmental challenges of our time,” said Dr Ramanathan.

    Brazil’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, whose emphasis on the use of satellites to track changes in forest cover has always been appreciated in the geospatial fraternity, was awarded for her key role in reversing deforestation in the great Amazon forest. She has not only been central in implementing land use policies in Brazil that have aided the control and prevention of deforestation but she has also contributed to highlevel UN panels on sustainable development. “To be a Champion of the Earth is an honour, but also a responsibility. Just one year ago, the global community was discussing how to achieve the ambitious goals of Rio+20, and now we are already seeing some of these goals becoming a reality,” she said.

    Janez Potocnik, the European Commissioner for the Environment was awarded for ‘Policy Leadership’. Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, Director of Grupo Ecologico Sierra Gorda and Carlo Petrini, Founder of Slow Food movement received the awards for ‘Inspiration and Action’. Speaking at the ceremony, the UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said, “Leadership and vision will be the hallmarks of a transition to an inclusive Green Economy in developed and developing countries alike. That transition is underway and has been given fresh impetus by the outcomes of last year’s Rio+20 Summit.”

    The event, by recognising the efforts of geospatial technology enthusiasts and professionals, has created an environment which could take the cause of environmental conservation a long way from where we stand today. It could really offer, in Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo’s words, a long “life to the planet”.