United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Brian McClendon, co-founder and VP of Google Earth Awarded Top UN Environment Prize


Indigenous Tribes from Sumatra and the Amazon to the Heart of Africa Use Google Earth Tools to Monitor Wildlife Crime, Keep Track of Illegal Logging and Trade in Carbon Credits

New York -- Brian McClendon, co-founder and VP of Google Earth is to receive the United Nation's highest environmental accolade, the Champions of the Earth Award 2013, for harnessing the power of technology to support conservation and green economic development.

Mr. McClendon was recognized for providing powerful tools, through Google Earth, to monitor the state of the environment, allowing researchers to detect deforestation, classify land cover and estimate forest biomass and carbon and thus demonstrate the scale of environmental problems and illustrate solutions.

The Champions of the Earth is awarded annually to leaders from government, civil society and the private sector, whose actions have had a significant and positive impact on the environment.

'With insight and information provided by partners like UNEP, the Google Earth platform is building a living, breathing dashboard of our changing planet that I hope will help influence policies that positively impact its future,' said Brian McClendon, Vice President of Google Maps and Google Earth.

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said, 'Leadership and vision will be the hallmarks of a transition to an inclusive Green Economy in developed and developing countries alike. That transition is underway and has been given fresh impetus by the outcomes of last year's Rio+20 Summit.'

'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,' he added.

Working with Local Communities

In Brazil, the Surui indigenous tribe collects data on forest carbon stocks, which they map using Google Earth. Trading carbon credits is helping the community build a sustainable future.

Tribe members learned to create YouTube videos, geo-tag content and upload it to a 'cultural map'. They use mobile phones and open data technology to record instances of illegal logging, making it easier for the public and Brazilian authorities to see where illegal activity is happening.

In Indonesia, Google Earth assisted the efforts of WWF to map forest cover and wildlife ranges in Sumatra, which suffers one of the world's fastest rates of deforestation - driven by overexploitation.

Over time, the http://maps.eyesontheforest.or.id website will provide a database of land cover, land use, and land users - using data compiled over the last decade on the ground in Sumatra.

The goal is to make more accessible data on the island's extraordinary conservation values, the outstanding diversity of its forests, its magnificent wildlife, and the huge carbon stock locked up in its deep peat soils.

According to WWF, the database is intended to increase transparency about the threats these values face; identifying the drivers of deforestation, habitat destruction, and release of peat carbon stores.

In Kenya, Save the Elephants uses Google Earth to visualize elephant tracking data from across Africa. Google Earth provides a rich mapping application to track the elephants on a moving 3D backdrop of high definition satellite images in real time. This allows the organization to monitor how elephants live, which has greatly enhanced the management and security of the elephants by boosting enforcement efforts by ranger patrols.

In Canada, Google Earth helped the Living Oceans Society create interactive maps that educate decision-makers, the public and industries about the importance of stepping up conservation of British Columbia's coastline - home to a large diversity of marine species such as whales, orcas, salmon and sponge reefs - and which came under threat from increased oil tanker traffic, fish farming, recreational and commercial activities.

In the United States, Google Earth was used to help rescue workers save more than 4,000 people after Hurricane Katrina.

In Australia, a scientist used the tool to discover a previously unknown coral reef in a region that was marked for oil and gas development.

Mapping a Changing Environment

UNEP and Google Earth have produced a series of atlases that use a combination of ground photographs, current and historical satellite images, and narrative based on extensive scientific evidence to illustrate how humans have altered their surroundings and continue to make observable and measurable changes to the global environment.

The project underscores the importance of developing, harnessing and sharing technologies that help provide deeper understanding of the dynamics of environmental change.

The words and pictures within the publications also serve as a vivid reminder that this planet is our only current home, and that sound policy decisions and positive actions by societies and individuals are needed to sustain the Earth and the well-being of its inhabitants.

Other Champions of the Earth winners include: Janez Potočnik, EU Environment Commissioner; Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food Movement; Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Environment, Brazil; Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD; Jack Dangermond, ESRI, and Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo from the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.

The full list of the 2013 Champions of the Earth winners is as follows:


Ms. Izabella Teixeira, Minister of Environment, Brazil is recognized for her key role in reversing deforestation in the Amazon and her role on high-level UN panels on sustainable development., According to government figures, Brazil has cut deforestation by 84 per cent over eight years, from an annual loss of over 27,000 sq km in 2004 to around 4,500 sq km in 2012. Apart from the prevention and control of deforestation, the land use planning policies implemented by Ms. Teixeira resulted in 250,000 sq km of conservation areas - the equivalent of 75 per cent of global forest protected areas.

Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment is recognized for his work advocating a shift from the current global model of intensive resource consumption, including setting 2020 targets for the European Union to halve food waste and practically eliminate the need for landfills. His role in tackling resource inefficiencies across the food chain has contributed substantially to the ongoing UN campaign on food waste, Think.Eat.Save: Reduce Your Foodprint.


Brian McClendon, co-founder and VP of Google Earth is recognized for providing a powerful tool to monitor the state of the environment, allowing researchers to detect deforestation, classify land cover and estimate forest biomass and carbon and thus demonstrate the scale of problems and illustrate solutions. Google Earth, for example, was used to help rescue workers save more than 4,000 people after Hurricane Katrina 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.

Jack Dangermond, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) is recognized for his commitment to ensuring that international, research, education, and nonprofit organizations working in the fields of conservation and development have access to the best geospatial analytical and visualization technology. In 1989, the ESRI Conservation Program was started to change the way non-profit organizations carry out conservation missions. This program provides GIS software, data, and training, and helps to coordinate multi-organizational efforts


Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD was recognized for his pioneering work on black carbon, which included leading a team that first discovered widespread Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and research into how cutting black carbon can significantly mitigate climate change. Dr. Ramanathan showed that ABCs led to large-scale dimming, decreased monsoon rainfall and rice harvest in India and played a dominant role in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. A member of the Science Advisory Panel on the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, he is now running Project Surya, which aims at reducing soot emissions from bio-fuel cooking in rural India.


Carlo Petrini, Founder of the Slow Food movement is recognized for his visionary work to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the world's agriculture and food supply 'one bite at a time'. Slow Food has over 100,00 members and supporters in over 150 countries, defending local food traditions, protecting local biodiversity and promoting small-scale quality products. Petrini is also a coordinator of National and International level research projects in the bioethical field. In 2012, Petrini was invited to speak at the Sustainable Development Dialogue on Food and Nutrition Security at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, Director of Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda is 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. She was responsible for achieving Biosphere Reserve status for Sierra Gorda under an innovative public-private system. Through her work and advocacy, 33 per cent of the State of Querétaro is now protected as a Biosphere Reserve. Hundreds of families in Sierra Gorda now receive a total of over US$2 million from the sale of carbon credits.

Notes to Editors

The Champions of the Earth Award was received by Google Earth Vice President for geo-products, Brian McClendon - a co-founder of geospatial data visualization company, Keyhole Inc., which was purchased by Google in 2004 to produce Google Earth. Mr. McClendon's childhood home in Lawrence, Kansas is the default center point of Google Earth.

About Champions of the Earth

Champions of the Earth, which was launched in 2005, is the UN's flagship environmental award. To date, it has recognized 59 individuals and organizations for their leadership, vision, inspiration and action on the environment. The list of previous laureates include Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Chinese actress and environmental advocate Zhou Xun, the Women's Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) and global music legend Angélique Kidjo. Visit http://www.unep.org/champions/ for more details.

About Guangdong Wealth - Sponsor of the Champions of the Earth Award

Guangdong Wealth Environmental Protection is a leading supplier of water purifying products and water treatment integrated solutions in China. The company practices a business model that puts social welfare before economic interests, using the concept 'let the sky be bluer and the water clearer'. The company invests in environmental scholarships for young university students, organizes clean-up operations, and donates tonnes of purifying tablets to tackle pollution in rivers in Guangdong and Beijing.

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