Equator Prize Ceremony Opens Doors to Scaling Up Local, Nature-based Solutions to Climate Change
Photo Credit: UNDP Equator Initiative/Mike Arrison
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The Equator Prize 2019 Award Ceremony brought together an audience of 1,500, including dignitaries, government leaders, UN representatives, indigenous leaders, and civil society and business representatives.

The event highlighted the contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities in implementing nature-based solutions in three different areas: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; and creating a new, green economy – all while achieving multiple SDGs simultaneously.

The Equator Prize 2019 Award Ceremony honored 22 local and indigenous groups implementing outstanding nature-based solutions to sustainable development, as a contribution to the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in New York, US. The star-studded gala and a series of associated events provided a platform for the winners to scale up and replicate their work, enabling indigenous and local leaders to connect with governments, donors, and heads of state.

Hosted by actor Oona Chaplin as Master of Ceremonies, the Award Ceremony brought together an audience of 1,500 in New York’s sold-out Town Hall theatre on 24 September. Dignitaries, government leaders, UN representatives, indigenous leaders, and civil society, as well as business representatives celebrated the winners for their exceptional achievements. UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner highlighted that the Equator Prize is “about people who are inventing solutions to what needs to happen next everywhere across the planet.” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Inger Andersen said “nature-based solutions have come to the fore late.” “We need to invest in nature, and when I say invest, I mean protect,” she noted.

The event highlighted the contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities in implementing nature-based solutions in three different areas: mitigating climate change; adapting to climate change; and creating a new, green economy – all while achieving multiple SDGs simultaneously. Addressing inequalities and the empowerment of women were emphasized, as were connections to biodiversity. Master of Ceremonies Chaplin pointed out that more than 80% of all biodiversity on the planet is on indigenous lands. The practices of indigenous peoples and local communities “not only protect the Earth, but they help life thrive,” she observed.

Several Equator Prize winners demonstrate how local efforts can contribute to significant carbon emission reductions, and the preservation of carbon-rich ecosystems. Speaking on behalf of the winners, Sevidzem Ernestine, Cameroon Gender and Environment Watch, said communities “are working hard to preserve the priceless gifts from the land that we live on, even though we are often not recognized as its rightful owners.” She called for stronger tenure rights for communities to the lands of which they are stewards. Citing the current fires in the Amazon, Actor and UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, added that inequality at global scale is a cause of deforestation and lack of progress to address climate change.

By implementing nature-based solutions derived from traditional knowledge and practices, indigenous peoples and local communities around the world are safeguarding food and water supplies, creating buffers that protect communities from natural disasters, and ensuring sustainable farming, forestry, and fisheries livelihoods. Rosa Elena Jerez Mazaquiza, Fondo de Páramos Tungurahua y Lucha contra la Pobreza, addressing the audience on behalf of the winners, stressed that “practices used back in time were, and still are, inherently sustainable. What is unsustainable today is not the climate change – it’s the pace of that change. And what we need now is a political climate change.”

The Ceremony showcased examples of economic incentives and instruments that, if implemented by communities, not only improve their well-being, but serve as inspiration for change in a global economic system that is dominated by unsustainable practices. Addressing political and business leaders, Felixto Cabanillas Contreras, Equator Prize winner Kemito Ene, highlighted that the “path for economic development rests on the sustainable use of natural assets. We [Equator Prize winners] are not only the stewards of our environment, but its experts, and we foster the environmentally and socially sustainable development that you committed to in 2015.”

The Equator Prize Award Ceremony provided a platform for indigenous and community leaders to make their voices heard in the climate change and sustainable development debates that dominated Climate Week NYC and the opening segment of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). During the Climate Action Summit, three indigenous leaders from Equator Prize winners addressed world leaders upon invitation of the Government of France. In France’s move to step up efforts and funding for initiatives to protect and sustainably manage the natural assets of the Amazon rainforest, two winner representatives from Peru and one from Ecuador were given an opportunity to call for greater inclusion of indigenous peoples and local communities in management arrangements and funding cycles. The three speakers were the only local or indigenous voices in the high-level event of the Alliance on Rainforests during the Climate Action Summit. Equator Prize winners also spoke at the Social Good Summit on the value of traditional knowledge, and at the Nature’s Climate Hub, co-organized by the Nature4Climate coalition and the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) Global Platform, to highlight the value of their work and to forge new partnerships. Equator Prize winners presented their work at ‘Our Village,’ a dialogue space that brought together climate activists from all over the world.

Beyond the immediate impacts of and media attention around the Equator Prize Award Ceremony, the placement of winners in fora to promote networking, advocacy, and partnership building is a significant result of the Equator Prize for the winning communities. Most community representatives had never left their countries before, and receiving praise and recognition for their work was a strong motivator for further efforts. In the months to come, Equator Prize winner celebrations will be held at national level to facilitate working connections with ministries, businesses, and civil society, and find additional opportunities for scaling up and replication.

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This article was written by Martin Sommerschuh, Coordinator, Equator Initiative, Global Programme on Nature for Development, UNDP. For a photo album with photos from the award ceremony, please click here. A full report is available here.


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