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European Environment Commissioner to Receive Top UN Environment Award

Janez Potočnik Recognized for Efforts to Promote Resource Efficiency and Reduce Food Waste in European Union



17 September 2013 – European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potočnik is to receive the United Nations’ 2013 Champions of the Earth award. 

The prize – which is the UN system’s highest environmental accolade - is awarded to leaders from government, civil society and the private sector whose actions have had a significant and positive impact on the environment.

Mr. Potočnik, 55, will receive the Policy Leadership award for his commitment to an inclusive Green Economy and boosting resource efficiency including in respect to food wastage across the European Union.

The Slovenian national’s leadership has emphasized how rising pressures on water, land, and other resources can trigger a positive shift towards more sustainable, low-carbon economies and lifestyles.

Mr. Potočnik who took office in 2010, has called for EU member states to pursue policies and incentives to promote sustainable consumption and production, most notably in the agricultural sector.

Under his leadership, the European Union has set targets to halve food waste and practically eliminate landfill by 2020. His role in tackling resource inefficiencies across the food chain has made a substantial contribution to the ongoing UNEP and Food and Agricultural Organization’s campaign Think.Eat.Save: Reduce Your Foodprint.

"It is an honour to receive this award and I wish to express to UNEP my deep appreciation for its work on sustainable development. Unless we change the way we produce and consume we will face a crisis in our natural resources. It is crucial that we make the necessary changes now rather than when we hit environmental tipping points," said Mr. Potočnik,

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said, ”Despite the challenges posed by the financial crisis  and the economic downturn Mr. Potočnik played a key role in maintaining Europe's focus on the future as an advocate for a more sustainable and resource efficient economy. Science, innovation and persistence have been leitmotifs of his tenure as Commissioner for the Environment."

“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. This year’s Champions of the Earth are among those who are putting in place the actions, policies and pathways to scale-up and accelerate such transformations. As such they are lighting rods towards a sustainable 21st Century,” he added.

Other winners of the 2013 Champions of the Earth award, which is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), include: Google Earth; Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement; Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Environment, Brazil; Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD; Jack Dangermond, founder of the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), and Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo from the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.The Guangdong Wealth-sponsored awards are to be presented at a ceremony in the American Museum of Natural History in New York on September 18, attended by a host of celebrity activists including supermodel and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen.

The individuals and organizations received awards in the categories of Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision, Science and Innovation and Inspiration and Action. The full details of the other recipients of the award follow:


Ms. Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Environment, Brazil
 was recognized for her key role in reversing deforestation in the Amazon forest, the pinnacle of a 30-year career in environmentalism. Brazil has cut deforestation by 84 per cent over eight years, from an annual loss of 27,772 sq km in 2004 to 4,571 sq km in 2012. Apart from the prevention and control of deforestation, the land use planning policies implemented by her resulted in 250,000 sq km of conservation areas—the equivalent of 75 per cent of global forest protected areas.



Google Earth
 was recognized for providing a powerful tool to monitor the state of the environment, allowing researchers to detect deforestation, classify land cover an estimate forest biomass and carbon and thus demonstrate the scale of problems and illustrate solutions. Google Earth was used to help rescue workers save more than 4,000 people after Hurricane Katrina and, in Australia, a scientist used the tool to discover a previously unknown coral reef in a region that marked for oil and gas development.

Jack Dangermond, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) was recognized for his commitment to ensuring that international, research, education, and non-profit organizations working in the fields of conservation and development have access to the best geospatial analytical and visualization technology. In 1989, the ESRI Conservation Program was started to change the way non-profit organizations carry out conservation missions. This program provides GIS software, data, and training, and helps to coordinate multi-organizational efforts


Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD
 was recognized for his pioneering work on black carbon, which included leading a team that first discovered widespread Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and research into how cutting black carbon can mitigate climate change significantly. Dr. Ramanathan showed that ABCs led to large-scale dimming, decreased monsoon rainfall and rice harvest in India and played a dominant role in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. A member of the Science Advisory Panel on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, he is now running Project Surya, which aims at reducing soot emissions from bio-fuel cooking in rural India.


Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, Director of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda was recognized for her work in the Sierra Gorda bioregion of Central Mexico, which demonstrates how a broad range of advocacy, public education and income-generation approaches can produce a broad mass movement. She was responsible for achieving Biosphere Reserve status for Sierra Gorda under a public-private system. Through her work and advocacy, 33 per cent of the State of Querétaro is now protected as a Biosphere Reserve. Hundreds of families in Sierra Gorda now receive a total of over US$2 million from the sale of carbon credits.

Carlo Petrini, Founder of Slow Food movement was recognized for his visionary work to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the world’s agriculture and food supply “one bite at a time”. Low Food has over 100,00 members and supporters in over 150 countries, defending local food traditions, protecting local biodiversity and promoting small-scale quality products. Petrini is also coordinator of National and International level research projects in the bioethical field. In 2012, Petrini was invited to speak at the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Food and Nutrition Security at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).


About Champions of the Earth
Champions of the Earth, which was launched in 2005, is the UN's flagship environmental award. To date, it has recognized 59 individuals and organizations for their leadership, vision, inspiration and action on the environment. The list of previous Champions laureates include Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Chinese actress and environmental advocate Zhou Xun, the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) and global music legend Angélique Kidjo. Visit for more details.
About Guangdong Wealth
Guangdong Wealth Environmental Protection is a leading supplier of water purifying products and water treatment integrated solutions in China. The company practices a business model that puts social welfare before economic interests. Their development concept “let the sky be bluer and the water clearer” supports UNEP’s goals of maintaining, if not improving, the health of our natural resources. The company invests in environmental scholarships for young university students, organizes clean-up operations and donates tonnes of purifying tablets to tackle pollution in rivers in Guangdong and Beijing.

For more information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Division of Communication and Public Information Director and Spokesperson, Tel. +41 795 965 737 or +254 733 632 755, e-mail:

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