An engineer who turns plastic rubbish into paving stones. An activist who is fighting to save endangered salmon. And an inventor who developed a machine capable of pulling water out of the air.
These are just some of the winners of the 2020 Young Champions of the Earth prize, announced on 15 December by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Drawn from seven regions around the world, these under-30 activists were heralded for their commitment to tackling some of the world’s most pressing environmental problems.
“Globally, young people are leading the way in calling for meaningful and immediate solutions to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – we must listen,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
This year’s Young Champions are Nzambi Matee (Kenya), Xiaoyuan Ren (China), Vidyut Mohan (India), Lefteris Arapakis (Greece), Max Hidalgo Quinto (Peru), Niria Alicia Garcia (United States of America) and Fatemah Alzelzela (Kuwait).
Each will receive US$10,000 in seed funding and tailored training to help scale up their ideas.
Many of those are groundbreaking – and the result of years of personal sacrifice. Matee, a materials engineer, quit her job and spent her life savings developing a system to turn discarded plastic into inexpensive paving stones. Garcia has devoted years working to save the Chinook salmon, whose numbers have long been in retreat in the American West. And Hidalgo worked with indigenous villages across Peru to develop a wind turbine that can siphon water from the air, an invention heralded as a lifeline for drought-prone communities.
“Globally, young people are leading the way in calling for meaningful and immediate solutions to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – we must listen.”
“As we enter this decisive decade where we work to cut emissions and protect and restore ecosystems, UNEP Young Champions demonstrate that all of us can contribute,” said Andersen. “Every single act for nature counts, and we need the entire spectrum of humanity to share this global responsibility and this profound opportunity.”
The Young Champions of the Earth prize – part of UNEP’s #ForNature campaign – aims to inspire more young people to become stewards of the environment. With pollution, species loss and climate change all accelerating, that is considered crucial to the future of the planet.
The seven prize winners were selected by a global jury of experts following a public nomination process.
Their elevation follows the announcement earlier this week of the 2020 Champions of the Earth, the UN’s highest environmental honour, awarded to seasoned environmental leaders whose actions are having a transformative impact on the environment.