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David Attenborough Receives the UN’s most Distinguished Environment Award

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By Shadrack Nyakoe

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today that Sir David Attenborough is the recipient of the Champions of the Earth Lifetime Achievement award for his dedication to research, documentation, and advocacy for the protection of nature and its restoration.

“Sir David Attenborough has devoted his life to documenting the love story between humans and nature, and broadcasting it to the world. If we stand a chance of averting climate and biodiversity breakdowns and cleaning up polluted ecosystems, it’s because millions of us fell in love with the planet that he showed us on television,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director. “Sir David’s work will continue to inspire people of all ages to care for nature and to become the restoration generation.”

Attenborough’s career as a broadcaster, natural historian, author, and environmental advocate spans over seven decades.

He is most famous for his work with the BBC’s Natural History Unit, including documentaries such as Life on Earth, the Living Planet, Our Planet and Our Blue Planet.

In addition, his advocacy to preserve and restore biodiversity, transition to renewable energy, mitigate climate change and promote plant-rich diets contribute to the realization of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The world has to get together. These problems cannot be solved by one nation – no matter how big that single nation is. We know what the problems are and we know how to solve them. All we lack is unified action,” Attenborough said upon receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. “Fifty years ago, whales were on the very edge of extinction worldwide. Then people got together and now there are more whales in the sea than any living human being has ever seen. If we act together, we can solve these problems.”

Attenborough has been a long-time and staunch supporter of environmental multilateralism.

In 1982, during the 10 meeting of UNEP’s Governing Council, he told UN Member States: “What you and I and other ordinary people around the world can do will not by itself save the natural world. The great decisions, the great disasters that face us, can only be dealt with by governments and that is why this organization is so important.”

This Lifetime Achievement Award is given in a historic year for the global environmental community.

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2022 marks fifty years since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, which was one of the first international meetings on the environment.

The conference spurred the formation of environment ministries and agencies around the world, kickstarted a host of new global agreements to collectively protect the environment, and led to the formation of UNEP, which is observing its 50th anniversary this year.

Previous laureates include environmental justice advocate Robert Bullard (2020), environment and indigenous rights defender Joan Carling (2018) and plant biologist José Sarukhán Kermez (2016). Recipients are selected by the Executive Director of UNEP, who also confers the award.

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