The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) will announce next week the five winners of the 2023 Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honour.
The award, now in its 19th year, recognizes pioneering leaders from government, civil society, academia, and the private sector for their transformative impacts on the natural world.
This year’s awards will honour innovators and initiatives that are helping to tackle plastic pollution, which UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently warned is having “catastrophic” consequences on the planet.
The laureates will be announced on 30 October 2023, ahead of the third session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, which is developing a legally binding international instrument to end plastic pollution.
In 2023, UNEP received 2,500 nominations for the Champions of the Earth award, marking the third consecutive year in which nominations have reached a record high.
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Plastic has transformed everyday life and provided many benefits for society. But humanity now produces around 430 million tonnes of the material annually, two-thirds of which quickly becomes waste.
Each year, 19-23 million tonnes of plastic waste leaks into aquatic ecosystems, polluting lakes, rivers and seas. Research shows that, if current practices continue, plastic could emit 19 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions allowed under the most ambitious Paris Agreement target by 2040. Chemicals in plastic have been linked to health problems in humans.
To counter this crisis, experts say the world must reduce plastic production, eliminate short-lived and single-use plastics, accelerate reuse systems, switch to environmentally friendly alternatives, improve recycling and adopt a life-cycle approach to plastic pollution.
This year’s Champions of the Earth are doing many of those things.
“People around the world are stepping forward with innovative ways to end plastic pollution and improve the health of the planet. The Champions of the Earth are leading that push,” said Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of UNEP’s Industry and Economy Division. “They give us hope that solutions to plastic pollution exist and remind us that safeguarding nature is key to achieving sustainable development.”
Making a difference
The Champions of the Earth award will celebrate visionaries in four categories: Policy Leadership, Inspiration and Action, Entrepreneurial Vision and Science and Innovation.
To date, 111 laureates, including heads of state, grassroots activists, ecopreneurs, captains of industry and pioneering scientists, have been honoured as Champions of the Earth. Last year’s laureates include economist Sir Partha Dasgupta from the United Kingdom, environmental activist Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet from Cameroon, biologist Purnima Devi Barman from India, conservationist Constantino Aucca Chutas from Peru and arcenciel, a non-profit from Lebanon.
UNEP coordinates and hosts the Champions of the Earth award. UNEP’s reputation as the global, non-partisan authority on environmental issues is built from 50 years of ground-breaking scientific research that informs global environmental policy.