by Xinhua writers Zhu Shaobin and Ronald Njoroge
NAIROBI, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world's leading authority on environment, on Tuesday honored six inspirational environmental leaders with the Champions of the Earth award during the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA3) being held on Dec. 4-6 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Chinese earth defenders, including the Saihanba Afforestation Community, bike-sharing startup Mobike, Chairman of Elion Resources Group Wang Wenbiao, were separately honored and have garnered half of the UN's highest awards on environment this year.
"The Saihanba Afforestation Community have transformed degraded land into a lush paradise -- part of a new Great Wall of vegetation that will play a part in helping protect millions from air pollution and preserving precious water supplies," said Erik Solheim, UNEP executive director, adding that the work is proof that environmental degradation can be reversed, and that this is an investment worth making.
He also said that the awards won by the Chinese have shown that the private sector can make a healthy profit while at the same time making huge improvements to people's lives and the environment.
"It proves that environmental challenges are not problems, but opportunities. This work is an inspiration to China and the world," he said.
In a rare article titled "Good News" which Solheim authored prior to the UNEA3, he also said that what the UNEP witnessed over the last two years in China is an unprecedented effort in protecting the environment while pursing economic and social progress.
During an interview with Xinhua on Tuesday, UNEP Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw also appreciated the Chinese efforts in environment protection.
"What we have seen recently in China is a very clear direction from the leadership that air and water pollution should not result in fatality and can be addressed with clear policy. We have seen the Chinese president and government adopt very clear positions and policy to help deal with pollution," he said.
"The most recent China (ruling) party congress was a landmark because the leadership come out strongly to speak about not only social and economic issues but also environmental issues," he said, adding China has become a major contributor of clean technologies around the world.
According to him, as the world's biggest investor in renewable energy, it may be a good opportunity for Chinese businesses to promote clean technologies and help in the dissemination of the technologies that will benefit developing countries.
"The energy production systems that are present in China are being phased out in favor of cleaner energy centers. This is something that we salute," he said.
According to him, given China's status as the world's second largest economy and its political influence and leadership role around the world, when China adopts domestic polices in regard to environment, it has global implications.
During the UNEA3, a sustainable innovation expo is also being held, with many enterprises expressing their appreciation for Chinese expertise in environment protection and technological innovation.
Dez Page-Morri, CEO of Enviroserve Kenya, an electronic waste recycler, said that currently the company's machinery, including shredders, separators and crushers have come from China while Advait Joshi, a third-year university student with USIU Africa who brings an air quality monitoring system in partnership with Intel to the expo, said that he and his classmate have actually got the idea of realtime air quality monitoring from China, something still in non-existence in Kenya.
During Tuesday's award-giving event, Saihanba Afforestation Community was awarded for transforming degraded land in northern China into a lush forest covering 92,000 hectares since 1962, generating huge volumes of water and oxygen for major cities in northern China and spurring green sector growth.
Meanwhile, Wang Wenbiao was awarded for a lifetime of leadership in green industry for his efforts in thwarting desertification and Mobike, the world's largest smart bike-sharing company, was awarded for exploring market-driven solutions to air pollution and climate change.
President of Chile Michelle Bachelet, Paul A. Newman and his team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and American filmmaker Jeff Orlowski were the three other winners of the award.