Sir David Attenborough, a beloved British broadcaster was accorded the Champions of the Earth Lifetime Achievement Award by the UN Environment Program (UNEP). He is only the fifth person in the world to receive this honour.
What is the ‘Champions of the Earth Lifetime Achievement Award’?
The UNEP’s Champions of the Earth award was established in 2005 to honour environmental leaders from throughout the world. Robert Bullard, an American sociologist and environmental activist, received the Lifetime Achievement award in 2020 for his work combating environmental oppression and systematic racism.
Entrepreneurial Vision, Policy Leadership, Science and Innovation, and Inspiration and Action are the other four Champions of the Earth award categories.
Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, received international praise last year for her impassioned speeches on climate justice at the United Nations General Assembly and the COP26.
Katharine Hayhoe, a Canadian atmospheric scientist, was named a Science and Innovation Champion in 2019 for “her steadfast commitment to measuring the effects of climate change and her relentless attempts to influence perceptions on climate change.”
Champions don’t have to be individuals: the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) awarded the Fridays for Future movement with its Inspiration and Action award in 2019, claiming that the movement had “electrified the global conversation about climate change at a time when the window of opportunity to avoid the worst effects of rising temperatures is closing.”
Who is Sir David Attenborough?
Sir David Attenborough used to spend a lot of his free time as a kid, hammer in hand, running through abandoned quarries in the English countryside. Fossilized ammonites, spiral-shaped mollusks that lived during the dinosaur era, were his prey.
The fossils were like buried riches to a young Attenborough, who was astonished to be the first person to see them in tens of millions of years.
He’d be charmed by the natural environment for the rest of his life.
Today, Attenborough, who is 95 years old, is possibly the most well-known natural history broadcaster in the world. He has penned and presented some of the most significant films on the state of the planet throughout a career that began with the beginning of television, including his decade-spanning, nine-part Life series.
He has spent 70 years unveiling the beauty of the natural world – and making bare the problems it faces – with what the New York Times termed his “voice-of-God-narration” and an unquenchable curiosity. Along the way, he has presented a vision for a more sustainable future to hundreds of millions of people.
“If the earth is to be rescued, Attenborough will have had more to do with it than anyone else who has ever lived,” commented Simon Barnes, an environmentalist and author.
In addition to his media activities, Attenborough is a key voice in the worldwide environmental movement. He has spoken at historic gatherings such as the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, where he called for a united global effort to tackle environmental dangers.
He has also worked with UNEP for more than four decades, providing his voice to a number of campaigns and short videos that have raised awareness of the organization’s efforts to combat climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. This endeavour is motivated by the notion that no single country can fix the world’s environmental problems on its own.
Attenborough’s work and advocacy earned him knighthood (twice) and the namesake of scores of species, including the prehistoric swimming reptile Attenborosaurus and the nepenthes attenboroughii (a carnivorous plant).
Attenborough has continued to contribute his voice to natural history films in subsequent years, getting two Emmy nominations for narration in 2021. (He’s won three Emmys and eight BAFTAs throughout his career.)
For decades, world leaders have looked to Attenborough for answers to the world’s environmental challenges – and possibly a dose of his excitement.
In 2015, he paid a visit to the White House to speak with US President Barack Obama. Obama inquired about Attenborough’s “deep passion” with the natural world.
Champions of the Earth Lifetime Achievement Award for Sir David Attenborough
The United Nations has honoured Attenborough with the UN Champions of the Earth Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his enormous effect on the worldwide environmental movement. The award is the United Nations’ highest environmental honour, honouring those who have dedicated their life to combating challenges such as climate change, species extinction, and pollution.
Inger Andersen, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), presented Attenborough with the prize, saying, “You have been an extraordinary inspiration for so many people.”
“You spoke for the planet long before anyone else did and you continue to hold our feet to the fire.”
“We are living in an era when nationalism simply isn’t enough,” Attenborough said in accepting the UNEP Champion of the Earth Lifetime Achievement Award. “We must feel like we are all citizens of this one planet. If we work together, we can solve these problems.” He added, “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. 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.”
Attenborough has been a long-time and staunch supporter of environmental multilateralism. In 1982, during the 10th 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. 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.