Barbados Prime Minister wins UN top environmental honour

Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley tells fellow leaders at Cop26 in Glasgow to "try harder". (Credit: Karwai Tang/UK Government)

The Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley won the UN’s highest environmental award on Tuesday for drawing attention to the plight of small islands against climate change.

Awarded every year by the UN Environment Programme, the Earth Champions Award honours activists, politicians, organisations and business actors who have had “transformative impact on the environment”.

Mottley made an impression at Cop26 in Glasgow with her poignant address, where she told fellow leaders that “failure to provide enough critical funding to small island nations is measured in lives and livelihoods in our communities”. 

Small island states like Barbados are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as the rise in global temperatures cause sea levels to increase, threatening low-lying coastal communities. 

Despite its minimal  contribution to the warming of the planet, the Caribbean island under Mottley’s leadership has been leading by example and has committed to ambitious climate targets, including ridding the energy and transport sector of fossil fuels. It was also the first to join the UN-led regional action plan to restore ecosystems by 2030 in 2020. 

Women centre stage

Three other laureates won the UN top prize, all of which were women leaders. Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, the first wildlife veterinarian of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, was honoured in the science and innovation category for her work on primates and zoonotic diseases.

The prize also went to Kyrgyz activist Maria Kolesnikova for developing an app to track air quality in Kyrgyzstan's two largest cities. Sea Women of Melanasia, an organisation that trains women in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to monitor coral bleaching, were among the four winners.

“This year’s champions are women who not only inspire us, but also remind us that we have in our hands the solutions, the knowledge and the technology to limit climate change and avoid ecological collapse,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP.