India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on October 3 received the “Champions of the Earth award” from United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Delhi. Modi was conferred the award on September 26 by the UN on the sidelines of the 73rd General Assembly in New York City. But since Modi did not attend this year’s UN session normally held in late September for world leaders, the UN chief traveled to Delhi to celebrate Non-Violence Day (Gandhi’s birthday on Oct 2) and to personally present the award to Modi-ji.
Our own former President Bharrat Jagdeo is a recipient of the distinguished honor in 2010. The Champions of the Earth Award is the United Nations' highest environmental honour, bestowed on the world's greatest change agents - individuals and organisations meriting international recognition for their environmental achievements.
The UN award was for PM Modi's extensive efforts to 'Beat Plastic Pollution'- including an ambitious pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in the country by 2022. Jagdeo’s honor was for protecting rainforests among other reasons.
Secretary General Guterres said “PM Modi not only recognises the fact that climate change is an existential threat, but also acts on it”.
The Un boss hailed India and Modi in his speech presenting the honor. "I thank India for setting an example on the environment and am pleased to present Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Champions of the Earth Award".
He praised Shri Modi-ji for his policies to clean up the environment. He also described Modi as “a global statesman who embodies true leadership."
Guterres said: "In PM Modi, we have a leader who realises the issue of climate change and understands the benefits of climate action. He knows the problems and also works to solve them".
Modi-ji was also recognised for his International Solar Alliance initiative, a global partnership that aims to scale up solar energy in 'solar-resource-rich countries' and reduce humanity's dependence on fossil fuels. The PM organized a global solar conference last January at which President Granger was a delegate and speaker.
French President Emmanuel Macron is a co-recipient of the award this year. The two leaders were recognised in the Policy Leadership category "for their pioneering work in championing the International Solar Alliance and promoting new areas of levels of cooperation on environmental action".
Head of UN Environment agency, Erik Solheim said. "It is ambitious leaders like him that will propel us forward in the fight to keep our natural environment healthy, accessible and sustainable for all. For this, I am immensely inspired and grateful."
In accepting the award, PM Modi said, "I accept this award on behalf of millions of Indians who protect the environment each and every day... From fisherfolk who only take what they need or tribal communities who think of forests as their family. We will never be able to tackle climate change without bringing climate into our culture. And this is why India is taking so much action for our climate."
The PM added: Asserting that the poor and the marginalised were the ultimate victims of the climate injustice, Modi said “we need to put the same emphasis on protecting nature as we do on other issues”.
As happened in Guyana under Jagdeo, Modi's leadership in India led to a sustainable policy implementation and green grassroots initiatives have flourished. In Guyana, there was an effort towards hydro power generation that has been shelved since a change in government in May 2015. In India, there is a major push towards renewable energy (solar, in particular). India is fifth largest producer of solar energy and sixth largest producer of renewable energy worldwide.