Nairobi, December 16 – The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has named seven young scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and activists from across the globe as its 2020 Young Champions of the Earth.
With solutions to harvest water from the air, recycle plastic into paving slabs, and motivate fishing boats to haul tonnes of plastic out of the ocean, these change-makers show how innovative ideas coupled with ambitious action can help solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.
“Globally, young people are leading the way in calling for meaningful and immediate solutions to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – we must listen,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. “As we enter this decisive decade where we work to cut emissions and protect and restore ecosystems, UNEP Young Champions demonstrate that all of us can contribute, starting where we are with what we have. Every single act for nature counts, and we need the entire spectrum of humanity to share this global responsibility and this profound opportunity.”
The seven prize winners, all 30 years old or younger, were selected by a global jury of experts following a competitive public nomination. The 2020 Young Champions of the Earth are:
- Africa: Nzambi Matee (Kenya, 29), a materials engineer and head of Gjenge Makers, which produces sustainable low-cost construction materials made of recycled plastic waste and sand.
- Asia and the Pacific: Xiaoyuan Ren (China, 29) leads MyH2O, a data platform that tests and records the quality of groundwater across a thousand villages in rural China into an app so residents know where to find clean water. The platform also educates communities about sources of contamination and connects villages with potable water companies.
- Asia and The Pacific: Vidyut Mohan (India, 29 years) co-founded Takachar, which builds affordable and portable biomass upgrading equipment, allowing farmers to earn extra income and prevent open burning by converting crop waste into fuels, fertilizers and activated carbon.
- Europe: Lefteris Arapakis (Greece, 26 years) founded the start-up Enaleia, through which the team trains, empowers and incentivises the local fishing community to collect plastic from the sea, allowing both fish stocks and the ecosystem to recover. Enaleia is also prototyping recycling the plastic into fashion merchandise like socks and swimsuits.
- Latin America and the Caribbean: Max Hidalgo Quinto (Peru, 30) founded Yawa, building portable wind turbines that harvest up to 300 litres of water per day from atmospheric humidity and mist.
- North America: Niria Alicia Garcia (USA, 28), coordinates – alongside a community of indigenous activists – the annual Run 4 Salmon event using virtual reality to bring to life the historical journey of the Sacramento chinook salmon along California’s largest watershed, raising awareness of this invaluable ecosystem, the species and people it supports.
- West Asia: Fatemah Alzelzela (Kuwait, 24) started Eco Star, a non-profit recycling initiative that exchanges trees and plants for waste from homes, schools and businesses in Kuwait. Since launching in early 2019, Eco Star has recycled over 130 tonnes of metal, paper and plastic.