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UN Honors Alumnus With 'Champions of the Earth' prize

Thursday, September 19, 2013

18 September 2013 – Entrepreneurs, policymakers, activists and academics from around the world are among the winners of the 2013 United Nations ‘

Champions of the Earth

’ award, which recognizes those whose work has had a positive impact on the environment.

Recipients of the award took action to combat some of the most pressing environmental issues, ranging from deforestation and food waste to climate change and poverty.

“Leadership and vision will be the hallmarks of a transition to an inclusive green economy in developed and developing countries alike. That transition is under way and has been given fresh impetus by the outcomes of last year’s




the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (


), Achim Steiner.

“This year’s Champions of the Earth are among those who are putting in place the actions, policies and pathways to scale-up and accelerate such transformations. As such they are lightning rods towards a sustainable 21st century.”

Among the laureates is the Vice President of Google Engineering, Brian McClendon, a University of Kansas alumnus who is being recognized for providing a powerful tool – Google Earth – to monitor the state of the environment, allowing researchers to detect deforestation, classify land cover and estimate forest biomass and carbon. Google Earth was also used to help rescue workers save more than 4,000 people after Hurricane Katrina hit the state of New Orleans and, in Australia, a scientist used the tool to discover a previously unknown coral reef in a region that had been identified for oil and gas development.

The Brazilian Minister of Environment, Izabella Teixeira, is being recognized for her role in reversing deforestation in the Amazon. According to Government figures, Brazil has cut deforestation by 84 per cent over eight years. In addition, the land use planning policies implemented by Ms. Teixeira resulted in 250,000 square kilometres of conservation areas – the equivalent of 75 per cent of global forest protected areas.

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, will receive the award for his work to reduce food waste, including setting 2020 targets for the European Union (EU) to halve food waste and eliminate the need for landfills.

Carlo Petrini, the Founder of the Slow Food movement which seeks to improve sustainability of the world’s agriculture, is also a recipient as his work, which has supporters in over 150 countries, embraces local food traditions and protects local biodiversity.

Environmental activist Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, is being recognized for her work in the Sierra Gorda region of Central Mexico, which demonstrates how a broad range of advocacy, public education and income-generation approaches can produce support healthy ecosystems and alleviate poverty. Through her work and advocacy, 33 per cent of the Mexican state of Querétaro is now protected as a Biosphere Reserve, and hundreds of families in Sierra Gorda now receive a total of over S$2 million from the sale of carbon credits.

Jack Dangermond from the Environmental Systems Research Institute is being honoured for his commitment to ensuring that international, research, education and non-profit organizations working in the fields of conservation and development have access to analytical and visualization technologies.

A professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, will be recognized for his research into how cutting black carbon can significantly mitigate climate change. A member of the Science Advisory Panel on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, he is now running Project Surya, which aims to reduce soot emissions from bio fuel cooking in rural India.

All the ‘champions’ received their awards during a ceremony on Sept. 18, 2013, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York hosted by UNEP this evening. The awards will be presented by UNEP’s Goodwill Ambassador and renowned supermodel Giselle Bündchen.

Launched in 2005, the Champions of the Earth awards have recognized 59 individuals and organizations for their leadership, vision, inspiration and action on the environment.


2013 Laureate

Entrepreneurial Vision (co-winner)

Brian McClendon

About Google Earth

Google Earth has become a powerful tool to show the scale of problems and illustrate solutions, which has encouraged a shift in public policy, funding for projects, and even in people’s fundamental understanding of the world. The software has proven to be an effective tool for monitoring the state of the environment, for example illustrating the scale of deforestation or the planet’s massive potential for renewable energy.

Google Earth Engine brings together the world's satellite imagery — trillions of scientific measurements dating back almost 40 years — and makes it available online with tools for scientists, independent researchers, and nations to mine this massive warehouse of data to detect changes, map trends and quantify differences on the Earth's surface. Applications include: detecting deforestation, classifying land cover, estimating forest biomass and carbon, and mapping the world’s road-free areas.

Google Earth was used to help the rescue workers who saved more than 4,000 people after Hurricane Katrina. In Australia, a scientist used Google Earth to discover a previously unknown fringing coral reef in a region marked for an oil and natural gas push.

Through Google Earth Outreach, an engagement initiative with non-profit organizations, Dreaming New Mexico used Google Earth to create a future vision of New Mexico in 2020 should it switch from fossil fuels to the renewable energy abundantly available within the state, enabling policy makers to visualize the possibilities of a greener energy future. A Brazilian indigenous tribe, the “Surui”, has been able to use Google Earth to prevent the deforestation and ruin of their area, and to preserve their culture and history.

About Brian McClendon

Brian McClendon is a 1986 electrical engineering graduate of the University of Kansas School of Engineering. He is vice president of engineering at Google and leads the Google Maps team, which includes Google Maps for Mobile, Google Earth, Street View, Waze, and Google’s local business efforts. Google Maps services are used by more than 1 billion people every month. In September, 2013, he received the Champions of the Earth Award from the United Nations Environmental Programme. He has been featured in the New York Times, CNN, Time magazine, and was a keynote speaker at the 2013 Google I/O conference.

He joined Google in 2004 via the acquisition of Keyhole, the precursor to Google Earth, which he co-founded. He also built advanced computer graphics hardware and software at Silicon Graphics. He holds ten patents, including ones for KML, the open standard for displaying geospatial data on web-based maps. He was born in Lawrence, KS, uncoincidentally the default center of Google Earth.

Watch the video.

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