Bachelet wins U.N. Environment Prize

Isabel Cocker/The Santiago Times Staff

SANTIAGO – President Michelle Bachelet has become the first South American head of state to win the prestigious United Nations “Champions of the Earth” prize.

The award, given Tuesday by the U.N. to recognize people or organizations working to promote environmental conservation, is the highest environmental honor given by the world body.

Bachelet was one of seven new Champions of the Earth, winning the Policy Leadership category for her outstanding leadership in creating marine protected areas and boosting renewable energy, according to a statement from U.N. Environment. The other categories include prizes for Science and Innovation, Lifetime Leadership, and Entrepreneurial Vision.

Chile creates marine protected area around Easter Island

At the awards ceremony during the Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Eric Solheim, the head of U.N. Environment, stated that “as we face unprecedented threats to our environment, strong leadership at all levels is more important than ever. This year’s Champions embody the commitment, vision and energy we so desperately need.”

Chile protects over 1 million km2 of marine area, which is the largest conservation zone in the world. In October 2015, President Bachelet established the marine park Nazca-Desventuradas in the San Ambrosio and San Felix Islands, and a range of protected areas and marine parks in the Juan Fernandez Islands. She has also extended protected areas in Easter Island. Aside from marine environmental protection, her policies have seen renewable energy production surge from 6 to 17 per cent of Chile’s energy creation in just 4 years.

“Chile has shown the world that you don’t need to be a rich country to preserve the environment,” said Ms. Bachelet. “I feel honored to be included in this outstanding group of people and grateful for being acknowledged as one of this year’s Champions of the Earth, the U.N.’s highest environmental recognition.”

Among past recipients of the Policy Leadership prize have been Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the President of Mongolia, in 2012, President Felipe Calderón of Mexico in 2011, and Sheik Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, in 2015.