Equator Prize 2019 Award Ceremony
Celebrating indigenous peoples and local communities pioneering nature-based solutions to climate change and for sustainable development
The 10th Equator Prize Award Ceremony honoured 22 local and indigenous communities from across the world in a gala event in New York, coinciding with the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit and the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly. 1,500 leading thinkers, policymakers, and business and civil society leaders from around the globe gathered in the sold-out Town Hall theater in New York, hosted by the Equator Initiative partnership, to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary initiatives created by 22 indigenous peoples and local communities from 16 countries. The winners were awarded a cash prize of US$10,000 each for their significant work that showcases innovative, nature-based solutions for tackling climate change and sustainable development. The winners are sustainably protecting, restoring, and managing forests, farms, wetlands, and marine ecosystems to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, help communities adapt to climate change, and create a green new economy.
The ceremony opened with a performance by aboriginal Australian didgeridoo player Cameron McCarthy, and an invocation by Amy Cordalis, General Counsel of the Yurok Tribe. She invited the audience to join the work of the Equator Prize winners: “Join us in developing a sustainable economy that includes nature-based solutions, that values indigenous rights, and that incorporates our traditional knowledge. Join us in recognizing indigenous human rights, land-based rights, and the ability to exercise our own sovereignty.”
Master of Ceremonies and actress Oona Chaplin (Game of Thrones and Avatar sequels), welcomed the audience and shared her perspective on the groundbreaking success of the Avatar movie as evidence that the fate of indigenous peoples and local communities is not a niche topic, but of relevance to millions of people in the world. She congratulated the winners, and invited the audience to join the ceremony’s journey through their stories: “I’d like to thank all of you for your presence, and your willingness to dream with us and to stand together for a brighter future; a future of abundance, a future of beauty, a future of harmony, a future of connection with nature as well.”
Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme Achim Steiner commented on the scope of the Equator Prize: " We are very proud that we will share with you this evening 22 extraordinary stories, 22 extraordinary solutions, and 22 reasons to be hopeful. When we have the opportunity to have such an award ceremony we not only are picking out 22 people from maybe 22 million people who are doing things like this, but we also want everybody to walk out of here and not feel that it is hopeless."
Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UN Environment, noted the importance of nature-based solutions to address climate change and development challenges: “We need to invest in nature, in nature’s infrastructure. When I say invest, I mean protect those seagrasses, those coral reefs, those sand dunes, those forests, those lakes, the mangroves. Each of these provide us with plenty. They provide us with our food, they provide us with our sustenance, and they provide us with protection at times when the storms come or when the waters rise.”
Bending the Climate Curve
Dr. Lucía Delfina Ruíz Ostoic, Minister of Environment of Peru, elaborated on the commitment of the Equator Prize winners in their many years of work: “I have seen the level of conviction with which these conservation initiatives for the forests are implemented. Because they are their forests, their homes. I’m glad to tell you today that those initiatives that were awarded, here, years ago, still persist, are still in struggle, and perhaps it could suggest that the key to their persistence is that they were conceived from the local communities themselves. They were not initially imposed from the outside.”
The awards were presented to the winners by Dr. Jill Blockhus, Director for International Partnerships at The Nature Conservancy, Kristen Walker, Senior Vice President at Conservation International, and actor (Game of Thrones) and UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
Sevidzem Ernestine, Equator Prize winner representative from Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch, delivered a community statement on behalf of the winners in the Mitigation category. She highlighted the cumulative impact of the winners work: “Not only do we all share a deep connection with nature, but we all work tirelessly to keep our ancestral knowledge alive. Together, in the Mitigation group, we have planted over 220,000 trees and conserved more than 1 million hectares of land. We have brought together thousands of indigenous people and local communities and trained them to sustainably manage their forests, conserve their indigenous crops, and lead their own businesses in a way that does not harm the environment. Together, we have made great progress in restoring our carbon-rich ecosystems.”
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, shared a reflection about his recent trip to the Amazon rainforest in Peru, where he had experienced the forests fires firsthand. Connecting environmental degradation such as deforestation with its causes, he identified inequality as a significant driver to be addressed: “There is inequality at a global scale. We have to solve this global inequality to solve climate change. These things are linked together.”
Winners in the Mitigation category
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Nature – Helping us Weather the Storm
Dr. Maria Flachsbarth, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany, emphasized the human responsibility to protect nature: “The 2030 agenda is a common manifest for our global responsibility and its goals and with them the future of us all will be in jeopardy unless we succeed in preserving the shared natural resources upon which our survival depends. The loss of nature habitats and biodiversity is speeding up. Protecting that web of life is thus becoming a matter of survival and a task that all of us must carry out.”
The awards were presented to the winners by Jenny Springer, Director of the Global Program on Governance and Rights at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and Dr. Dennis Jacobs, Provost of Fordham University.
Rosa Elena Jerez Mazaquiza from Fondo de Páramos Tungurahua y Lucha contra la Pobreza, delivered the community statement on behalf of the winners in the Adaptation category. She highlighted how indigenous leaders are uniquely positioned to create sustainable change: “In each of our communities, we can tell a story of resilience in the face of change. In total, we teach the value of nature to over 8,800 children and youth, support the livelihoods of over 611,000 people, and protect, conserve, and restore over 1.7 million hectares of land. Our response to a changing environment is not new. This is what we have done for centuries. For us, indigenous peoples and local communities, traditional knowledge enhances our ability to become more resilient. Practices used back in time were, and still are, inherently sustainable. What is unsustainable today is not the climate change - it's the pace of that change. And what we need now is a political climate change.”
Naoko Ishii, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility, commented on the importance of including indigenous communities in the political conversation around adaptation: “So when the world is now ramping up its effort to do adaptation more, faster, we really need to listen to you [Equator Prize winners], because you know much better what’s going on, you know much better how to handle that. So we really need you, and we really need to bring you to the center stage of decision making.”
Winners in the Adaptation category
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A New Nature and Climate Economy
Nancy Mahon, Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability at the Estée Lauder Companies, underlined the importance of including community leaders in business decisions: “At Estée Lauder we believe the answers to complex community issues that exist within global supply chains usually lie within the communities themselves. And that we, as business, most stop, listen, and learn, to make the change that is truly meaningful and sustainable.”
The awards were presented to the winners by Ulrika Åkesson, Lead Policy Specialist for Environment and Climate Change at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, and Dr. André Corrêa d'Almeida, from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.
Felixto Cabanillas Contreras, Equator Prize winner from Kemito Ene, delivered the community statement on behalf of the winners in the New Economy category. He articulated the value of economic potential when partnering with indigenous communities: “To investors, we urge you to invest in businesses created by indigenous peoples and local communities who have a long-term vision for our planet and our people. Our enterprises demonstrate that environmentally sustainable business can also be profitable. We urge you to partner with us to combine our strengths, knowledge, and sustainable technologies.”
Marit Brandtzæg, Deputy Director General of the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, spoke to the impact of the Equator Prize winners’ work: “The winners have shown us how indigenous people and local communities are part of the solution of the global effort to combat climate change and biodiversity loss. The winners do not work in isolation and their efforts benefit us all.”
Winners in the New Economy category
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Closing Keynote: A Message from Youth Activists
Young climate activists Elisha Bano, Paloma Costa, Carson Kiburo, Sinta O'Connor, and Kynan Tegar delivered the closing keynote address as a statement, spoken word performance, and invocation. They appealed to the audience to take into consideration the perspective of youth and young people in climate and environment: “It is our view as the youth of today that nature needs a seat at the table. If not now, when? If not us, who?” They highlighted the urgency and potential of working with indigenous peoples and local communities to address global challenges: “Indigenous communities like those here tonight have been marginalized and forced to fight for their land rights, but they also have been teaching us how to work with nature instead of fighting it.” The activists closed with a call to the audience: “Indigenous communities have protected nature and the land for thousands of years. We call on the rest of the world to do the same. We call on you, all of you, to use whatever power you have to make that happen.”
Musical performance: Alsarah and the Nubatones
East african retro-pop group Alsarah and the Nubatones invited all winners to join them on stage as they performed in celebration and recognition of the exceptional achievements of the Equator Prize winners.
Prize winners were featured in national and international media, including: