Mexico City / Nairobi -- A grassroots environmental campaigner credited with securing the future of one of Mexico’s most critical ecosystems, and supporting the livelihoods of disadvantaged rural communities, is to receive a 2013 Champions of the Earth award; the UN system’s highest environmental accolade.
Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo, better known as ‘Pati’, 60, is Director of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve - Mexico’s most ecologically diverse protected area and described as a “green jewel” in the heart of the country.
The reserve is heralded as a model of public-private ecosystem management, where eco-tourism, waste management, and conservation projects provide income for hundreds of local residents, as well as securing the future of a rich habitat once threatened by deforestation and unregulated development.
The Champions of the Earth prize is awarded annually to leaders from government, civil society and the private sector, whose actions have had a positive impact on the environment. It is organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Ten years after Ms. Ruiz Corzo, her husband, and local residents established the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group, they successfully lobbied the Mexican Government to grant the area Biosphere Reserve status in 1997. It remains the only case in Mexico of a protected area resulting from a grassroots initiative.
Today, over 380,000 hectares of forest and other ecosystems are afforded special conservation status. Improved community stewardship of the environment has led to a marked decline in destructive land practices, and resulted in some 13,000 hectares of regenerated woodland over the past 15 years. Once-threatened species which inhabit the reserve’s 14 distinct ecosystems, including jaguar, butterflies, and aquatic life, are increasing in number.
“A love for the Earth, safeguarding the sacred fabric of Nature, promoting individual and collective efforts, being alert to emergencies, and a maintaining the commitment, creativity and passion to relieve the weight that our society places on the planet; this is what continues to inspire my work,” said Ms. Ruiz Corzo.
“The transformation of the Sierra Gorda Biosphere from a critically threatened ecosystem to a living example of conservation through green economic development and community action is testament to Pati’s inspirational work over the past three decades,“ said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner.
Ms. Ruiz Corzo has long advocated a “conservation economy”, combining natural protected area management with widespread civil participation.
The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve aims to diversify the region’s economy by harnessing the benefits of ecosystem services, and training community members in conservation-based skills, to alleviate poverty and build social entrepreneurship.
A 'payment for ecosystem services' programme has been central to the success of the reserve.
The scheme, which gained the backing of the federal government, assigned an economic value to fresh water, land, and other key natural resources. Local residents were paid US$30-40 per hectare of land for reducing cattle numbers and not cutting down trees, which improved local watersheds and reduced soil erosion.
Among a range of community schemes, the Biosphere Reserve operates over 100 recycling depots, which manage 900 tons of recyclable materials per year. The depots are run on a voluntary basis by local women.
A community environmental education programme has reached 18,000 children in 170 schools in the region, while a network of eco-clubs across five states trains young people in environmental leadership.
Hundreds of local families have shared revenues of around US$2 million from the sale of carbon credits in the reserve.
Ms. Ruiz Corzo will receive her 2013 Champion of the Earth award in the ‘Inspiration and Action’ category at a special ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on 18 September 2013. The event, which is sponsored by Guangdong Wealth, will be attended by a host of celebrity activists, including supermodel and UNEP Goodwill Ambassador Gisele Bündchen.
Champions of the Earth laureates will receive awards in the categories of Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision, Science and Innovation and Inspiration and Action. The names of the other winners of the 2013 edition of the award will be revealed in the coming days.
Notes to Editors
More information on the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is available at: http://sierragorda.net/en/reserva-de-la-biosfera-sierra-gorda/
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 Champions 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
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.