Goldman environmental prize: top awards dominated by women for first time

theguardian.com

Winners are all grassroots activists who have taken on powerful vested interests

Goldman environment prizewinners 2018: (clockwise from top left) Manny Calonzo, Francia Márquez, Nguy Thi Khanh, LeAnne Walters, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Claire Nouvian.
 Goldman environment prizewinners 2018: (clockwise from top left) Manny Calonzo, Francia Márquez, Nguy Thi Khanh, LeAnne Walters, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Claire Nouvian. Photograph: 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize

The world’s foremost environmental prize has announced more female winners than ever before, recognising the increasingly prominent role that women are playing in defending the planet.

The struggle for a healthy planet may sometimes feel like a series of defeats, but this year’s Goldman environmental prize celebrates six remarkable success stories, five of them driven by women.

From an anti-nuclear court ruling against former South African president Jacob Zuma and Russian leader Vladimir Putin to a campaign that nudged the Vietnamese government from coal to renewable energy, the winners – unveiled on Earth day yesterday – are all grassroots activists who have taken on powerful vested interests.

In Latin America, the winner is Francia Márquez, an Afro-Colombian community leader who led a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women from the Amazon to Bogotá that prompted the government to send troops to remove illegal miners who were polluting rivers with cyanide and mercury.

Like many previous winners, she faces immense risks. The dangers of environmental activism have been evident in the murder of two Goldman-prize recipients in the past two years.

The 2015 winner Berta Cáceres – a Honduran indigenous rights and anti-dam campaigner, was killed less than a year after collecting the award. Ten months later, a 2005 winner – Mexican activist Isidro Baldenegro López – was gunned down in the Sierra Madre mountain range. Earlier this month, one of last year’s winners, Rodrigue Katembo – a park ranger in the Virunga sanctuary for mountain gorillas – lost six of his colleagues in a massacre by militia groups.

Márquez said insecurity is also a fact of life in her campaign.

“We constantly receive death threats from militias, leaders, organisations and communities. Protecting the environment and land will always result in dispute between those who want the territory to live and those who want it to fill their pockets with money,” she told the Guardian. “This award is a recognition of the collective struggle of all peoples in the world who care for the environment … and all the leaders who have been killed for the cause of caring for our common home.”

A law student and a single mother of two, the 35-year-old has been an environment and community activist since she joined a campaign against a hydroelectric dam at the age of 13.

The increasingly prominent role of women in environmental activism has been recognised by this year’s prizes. Since 1990, six awards – one for each habitable continent – have been announced by the Goldman prize foundation, which was set up by an member of the Levi Strauss family who made a fortune in the insurance business.

This is the first time that five of the six are women. The winners include South African anti-nuclear activists Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Vietnamese clean-energy advocate Nguy Thi Khanh, US clean-water defender LeeAnne Walters, and French marine-life champion Claire Nouvian. The one male winner is Philippine anti-lead campaigner Manny Calonzo.

Márquez says she will use the award to promote a new mode of economics and politics based on life-giving “maternal love” rather than “dead” extractivism.

“The first thing we need is to be more aware of the historical moment in which we find ourselves: the planet is being destroyed, it’s that simple, and if we do nothing to avoid it we will we will be part of that destruction,” she said. “Our time has come, we must act, we have a responsibility to future generations to leave a better world, in which taking care of life is more important than producing cumulative wealth.”

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One thought on “Goldman environmental prize: top awards dominated by women for first time

  1. Chị Nguy Thi Khanh from GreenID, is the first Vietnamese to be awarded this prestige prize. Congrats chị Khanh!

    From https://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/khanh-nguy-thi/

    Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections in Vietnam. Highlighting the cost and environmental impacts of coal power, she partnered with state officials to reduce coal dependency and move toward a greener energy future.

    The proven dangers of coal
    As its economy booms, Vietnam’s electricity needs have been growing at roughly 12% per year for the past decade. Vietnam is one of four Asian nations that lead the world in new coal plant construction. After exploiting most of its hydropower potential, in 2011 the Vietnamese government turned to coal and nuclear to meet its future energy needs. A large portion of the coal burned in Vietnam is imported, increasing the country’s reliance on expensive imports. As the dirtiest form of electricity generation, coal is responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is a major source of air and water pollution.

    In 2011, the Vietnamese government published its 2011-2020 Power Development Plan, which outlined the country’s future energy needs and called for 75,000 megawatts of coal-fired power by 2030. A 2015 Harvard University study concluded that about 20,000 citizens per year would die prematurely as a result of air pollution if all proposed coal plants were built in Vietnam.

    A methodical scientist and humble consensus builder
    Khanh Nguy Thi, 41, was born into a rural family in Bac Am, a village in northern Vietnam. Growing up near a coal plant, she experienced firsthand the pollution and dust from coal operations and witnessed many people in her community develop cancer. Nguy Thi studied history, French, and diplomacy and had planned on becoming a diplomat. However, she was always passionate about the environment and, after graduating from college, began working on water conservation issues and community development for a small Vietnamese nonprofit organization.

    In 2011, Nguy Thi founded the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) in order to promote sustainable energy development in Vietnam, as well as good water and air governance and green development. She also established the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance, a network of 11 Vietnamese and international environmental and social organizations that collaborate on regional energy issues. She is deeply focused on engaging with experts and decisionmakers on renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and coal power.

    Collaborating with state agencies for a sustainable energy future
    Vietnam’s Power Development Plan predicted a dramatic increase in energy demands based on steep economic growth. Nguy Thi’s research suggested more modest energy needs and economic growth projections. Additionally, she was concerned about the plan’s heavy reliance on coal and the long-term energy security and climate implications for Vietnam.

    Nguy Thi learned everything she could about coal and climate change, and worked with colleagues and officials to develop an alternate, more sustainable plan. In 2013, she collaborated with energy experts and produced a study on the opportunity to reduce the coal share of the power supply mix in favor of sustainable energy sources. The study detailed how expensive and risky coal was as a primary source of electric power, and proposed alternatives. Around the same time, several coal-related environmental disasters in Vietnam highlighted coal’s dangers and pushed the discussion about Vietnam’s energy future into the public domain. Nguy Thi organized training and communication activities in eight communities affected by the disasters. She worked with the media to publish evidence-based articles about coal and its impacts, and sat on several panels about air pollution.

    The extensive media coverage and widespread public debate about coal allowed Nguy Thi and GreenID to collaborate with the Vietnamese government on a revised energy development plan. In January 2016, the government announced that it intended to review development plans for all new coal plants and affirmed Vietnam’s commitment to responsibly implement international commitments for reducing greenhouse gases.

    Nguy Thi’s research and collaboration on a more environmentally sustainable national energy plan supported the Vietnamese government’s March 2016 announcement of its revised Power Development Plan. The revised plan significantly reduced the number of coal plants in the pipeline and incorporated Nguy Thi’s recommendation to increase renewable energy—such as wind, solar, and biomass—to 21% of the total energy plan by 2030. With these developments, Nguy Thi has helped guide Vietnam on a path toward energy independence. She is committed to working with her peers and the government to support Vietnam’s transition to renewable and sustainable energy solutions.

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