Equator Prize 2017 Award Ceremony

An evening to celebrate the achievements of local communities and indigenous peoples in managing nature for sustainable development

The 9th Equator Prize Award Ceremony honored 15 winners in a gala event in New York, coinciding with the Global Goals Week and the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly. On 17 September, leading thinkers, policy-makers, business and civil society leaders from around the globe gathered in The Town Hall theater in New York, hosted by the Equator Initiative partnership, to celebrate the extraordinary initiatives and innovations brought about by indigenous peoples and local communities from 12 countries. The winners were recognized for their significant work to create scalable, nature-based solutions to address biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, gender empowerment, land rights, and food and water security.

Nearly 1,500 people came together to celebrate the achievements of 15 Equator Prize 2017 winners protecting, restoring and sustainably managing marine, forest, grassland, dryland and wetland ecosystems. They've been recognized for their significant work to create scalable,  nature-based solutions to address biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, gender empowerment, land rights, and food and water security.




The ceremony was opened by the blessing of Native American actor, singer and educator John Scott-Richardson and a performance by Native American grass dancer Sheldon Raymore. The Master of Ceremonies was Xiuhtezcatl Martínez, a 17-year-old indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement.

UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner commended the work of all Equator Prize Winners over the last fifteen years: “The 15 communities we honor tonight, together with the more than 200 previous prize winners, and the more than 5,000 nominations we have received to date, are beginning to weave a tapestry of local solutions that tackle some of the most vexing challenges in sustainable development. These solutions show us that when we invest in nature, and we can achieve our global, national and local goals of obtaining food, water, peace, gender parity and security in a truly sustainable manner. They give us hope for the future.”

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and renowned climate change and environmental advocate, recognized the efforts of local and indigenous communities to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals: “As we celebrate the recipients of the Equator Prize tonight, let us welcome the lessons they can teach us in living in balance with nature, and let us recommit to a future where all are equal in dignity and rights.”

President and CEO of National Geographic Society, Gary E. Knell, recognized the ability of local communities to be powerful agents of change: The “courage, grit and creativity of people like tonight’s awardees is a force that is getting stronger every single day. It’s a growing movement.” He highlighted the importance of storytelling to raise awareness of and support change-makers like the Equator Prize winners. Mr. Knell also introduced three videos, produced by National Geographic, presenting the three winner categories: Forests, Drylands, Grasslands, and Mountains, and Oceans.


Watch the opening remarks here:




H.E. Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and Environment of Norway, highlighted the importance of forests to humanity: “Forests are one of the two lungs of our planet, and the thermostat of our climate. When you protect forests, you protect life. Forests harbor 80% of all plants and animals on earth. Protecting and restoring forests is key if we are to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and many of the Sustainable Development Goals. Forests hold up to a third of the solutions to climate change mitigation, they are critical to biodiversity, to water and rainfall patterns and food security.”

The awards were presented to the winners by Achim Steiner and Kristen Walker, Senior Vice President at Conservation International. Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Vice President of Global Policy at Conservation International and former Minister of Environment of the Government of Costa Rica, recalled his personal experience of witnessing deforestation as a child in Costa Rica, and the subsequent reforestation and preservation efforts. “When we lost our forest, we felt like the values and richnesses of our country was lost. Protection is not a burden to development – on the contrary, logging in Costa Rica does not make any economic sense.”

On behalf of the Equator Prize winners, Benki Piyãko from the Associação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia Apiwtxa, said, “In the same way as life in the forest is related – that every creature and every plant interacts and is dependent on each other to thrive and flourish – we as a global community are related and our efforts to care for the forest help maintain the ecological balance of the planet’s entire ecosystem. By protecting our forests and Mother Earth, our one and only home, we ensure development for humanity as a whole.”


Winners in the category “Forests”

Watch the community statement and remarks here:

Drylands, Grasslands and Mountains



Naoko Ishii, Chairperson and CEO of the Global Environment Facility, highlighted the achievements of the Equator Prize winners from arid and semi-arid ecosystems: “We must seek new and innovative pathways toward resilience to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Indigenous peoples and local communities have shown that they can be an engine of innovation and learning, and a source of inspiration and courage for all of us. By investing in these communities, we can achieve lasting results that help provide a pathway toward a just, resilient and sustainable ”

The awards were presented to the winners by Achim Steiner and Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Mr. Samper said, “We live in a world out of balance, losing biodiversity and wildlife at a swindling rate – only 23% of the surface of our planet remains wild, and we have lost 10% of that wilderness in the last two decades alone. But tonight, the Equator Prize winners are showing us a way forward, towards a life in balance: with people, with water, with agriculture, and with wildlife.”

Naila Rizvi of the Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization from Pakistan spoke on behalf of the Equator Prize winners: “Although we come from vastly different homes in Guatemala, Mali, Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan, we share a common reality, a common call to action. Climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development are all threads of one tapestry, a collage that we, and our communities, confront as we wake each day. Every day, stretching back decades for some of us, and over millennia for our ancestors, we restore indigenous methods, protect endangered species and empower families and communities to realize the goals and values enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement.

Winners in the category “Drylands, Grasslands, and Mountains”

Watch the community statement and remarks here:



Céline Cousteau, acclaimed filmmaker and activist, introduced the winners working in marine and coastal environments: “The ocean provides us with the air we breathe and the food we eat – it is essential to all our lives, every day; but, fueled by climate change and soiled by the bottles, bags and bits we discard into the ocean, we also face raging storms and the flow of plastic back into our own bodies. The Equator Prize is one way of recognizing these connections, as the winners we honor tonight protect and restore the corals, seagrasses and mangroves that feed and protect them, and find new pathways to sustainably manage and develop their fishing practices and their communities to live in harmony with the oceans.”

The awards were presented to the winners by Achim Steiner and Jill Blockhus, Director of International Partnerships at The Nature Conservancy.

Ingrid Hoven, Director-General for Global Issues at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) highlighted the relevance of oceans in our lives: “The power of the ocean is immense. The oceans sustain us, they provide income, absorb half of all carbon dioxide emissions, protect our coastal cities and communities, and enable women to work. The oceans inspire us, and this year’s ocean winners inspire us even more – to take action, to protect the oceans, to restore coastal ecosystems, to support sustainably managed fisheries, and to encourage marine and coastal communities around the world. Only then can we unleash the power of the oceans to help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”

On behalf of the Equator Prize winners, Novia Sagita of Yayasan Planet Indonesia and Josphat Mwamba Mtwana from Mikoko Pamoja in Kenya, delivered joined remarks. “We represent indigenous peoples and local communities who are stewards of the oceans, creating innovative ecotourism, restoring and managing over 50,000 hectares of mangroves, and establishing locally-managed marine protected areas in Indonesia, Thailand and Kenya.”, said Josphat Mwamba Mtwana. “Every day, we strive to live in tandem with nature and to maintain the rich biodiversity of our communities”, stated Novia Sagita, “By sustainably managing and protecting critical mangroves and rainforests, sequestering thousands of tons of carbon, creating hundreds of new jobs and securing countless fish, we feed our families, engage our youth in education, empower women as decision-makers, protect our communities from natural disasters, and develop sustainable and meaningful livelihoods.”

Winners in the category “Oceans”

Watch the community statement and remarks here:

Closing Remarks

Ángel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, emphasized the relevance of local and indigenous communities’ achievements: “Despite the challenges they face, indigenous communities have unique talents, capabilities and traditional knowledge of natural resources and land management.” He reminded the audience to follow the steps of the Equator Prize winners in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: “The Equator Prize winners tonight are showing us a different pathway forward – they are showing us that by investing in nature, they are able to achieve their own sustainable development goals, often at a very low cost, and with a very high return on investment. Now it’s our turn.”


Jazz, Folk and Soul singer-songwriter Morley invited all winners to join her on stage as she performed in celebration and recognition of the exceptional achievements of the Equator Prize winners. 

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