In such uncertain times for the global climate, the United Nations Environment Assembly 2017 (U.N.) provided a platform for those concerned with the future of the planet to gather and discuss environmentally sustainable solutions.
Held in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, the event brought heads of state, entrepreneurs and ministers to the U.N. Kenya Office. Within the complex, visitors could meet the pioneers of groundbreaking initiatives, or become inspired through projects that were set to revolutionise the norm.
Initiatives to change the world
One notable organisation came from Beijing.
Mobike, the world’s largest bike-sharing company, brought over 100 bikes to the event to promote sustainable transport. Connecting travel with technology, Mobike two-wheelers feature a range of high-tech gadgets that are fitted to make travelling for the everyday commuter more efficient.
I spoke to the founder of the group, Hu Weiwei, who explained that the initial idea behind Mobike was to simply ease congestion in cities. But now, it has taken on a life of its own and transformed into a “travel green” movement through China’s major metropolises.
“Mobike is now looking to impact cities across the globe,” Weiwei said.
Throughout the conference halls and tented exhibitions, there was the same sense of optimism for the future of the environment – that these initiatives and organisations could make a lasting difference on the world stage.
During an interview with UNEP’s Africa Regional Climate Change Program Coordinator, Dr. Richard Munang, I pressed him on the reality of these organisations and governments achieving their ambitious goals – from mitigating the impacts of climate change, to protecting marine parks. Munang remained adamant that it was all possible, and how governments across the globe were “waking up to the fact” that climate change was a concrete reality.
China wins big in Champions of the Earth Ceremony
To signify this sense of optimism throughout the event, the Champions of the Earth award ceremony took place on Tuesday evening.
The occasion was to recognise “inspirational environmental leaders” for their achievements in creating sustainable solutions. In attendance, a range of high-profile individuals, from UK singer Ellie Goulding – who featured as UN Goodwill Ambassador – to UNEP’s very own Executive Director Eric Solheim.
Throughout a three-course meal, the ceremony took place and award-winners took to the stage during the night to give speeches on their unique enterprises.
First on the stage, six young “Champions of the Earth” were recognised for their innovative solutions in creating sustainable products to “save the environment”. From South America to Africa, these young leaders represented the future of the world’s fight against climate change.
Following this, seven Champions of the Earth from around the world were awarded for their commitments and vision. It was a particularly good night for three Chinese Champions of the Earth: Mobike, the Saihanba Afforestation Community and Wang Wenbiao.
Hu Weiwei of Mobike went home with the award for Entrepreneurial Vision. In accepting her award, Hu explained how the bicycle could become a way to keep peace.
“Today, it seems that the humble bicycle can not only change people and cities, but can also help change the world – both as a universal symbol of peace, and as a weapon in the fight against climate change.”
China’s Saihanba Afforestation Community was named Champion of the Earth for inspiration and action, in honor of its work transforming degraded land into a lush paradise.
Chen Yanxian – a first generation construction worker in Saihanba Forest Farm in Hebei Province – accepted the award on behalf of the Saihanba community.
“For more than half a century, three generations followed just one mission in Saihanba, that is to plant trees with our hearts and souls, and turn the barren hills into green mountains. We feel very proud of ourselves for creating such a green miracle,” said Chen.
And China’s Wang Wenbiao, chairman of Elion Resources Group, was handed the Lifetime Achievement award for a life of leadership in the green industry.
“Our marathon of desertification control has not come to an end,” Wang said on stage. “On the conviction that ‘green mountains with clear water are silver and gold mountains,’ I will continue my marathon run from Kubuqi to the countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, and across the world, to fight against deserts for more oases and happiness.”
The award-winners reaffirmed the never-ending commitment that individuals and organisations continue to give to protect the environment.
From their tireless work, they have set the stage for future generations to build upon, in a hope that they can significantly reduce the impacts of climate change.