Green Nobel Prize winners fight deforestation and coal-fired electricity


BOGOTA: As a teenage mother and activist, Liz Chicaje traveled by boat and on foot through Peru’s Amazon rainforest with her young daughter campaigning to protect the ancestral lands of the indigenous Bora people from illegal logging and mining.
To preserve the forest on which the Bora and other indigenous peoples depend for hunting and fishing in Peru’s northeastern region of Loreto, Chicaje spearheaded the creation of a two million acre national park (809,370 hectares).
On Tuesday, Chicaje’s activism and leadership earned him a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize – known as the “Green Nobel” – which honors popular activism, along with five other laureates.
“We live off the forest. It is our wealth. Without the forests we would not have the food and the clean air we breathe,” Chicaje, 38, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a Zoom interview .
“We must all continue to make progress in protecting the environment and reforesting areas,” she said.
Chicaje and other indigenous leaders worked with government officials, environmentalists and scientists, using satellite imagery to map areas that would be placed under protection.
Chicaje convinced other indigenous communities to endorse the park, and in January 2018, the Peruvian government declared the creation of Yaguas National Park.
With rates of deforestation on the rise in parts of the Peruvian Amazon, the national park is considered by conservationists to be vital for safeguarding ecosystems and the peatlands and tropical forests that store carbon.


Cut coal

Announced in San Francisco, California, at an online ceremony, the Goldman Environmental Prize provides each of the six winners with financial support to amplify their environmental activism and continue their local campaigns.
Other winners this year include Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, a Malawian anti-plastics activist; environmentalist Maida Bilal from Bosnia and Herzegovina; and American Sharon Lavigne, activist against toxic waste and pollution.
They also include Thai Van Nguyen, a Vietnamese wildlife advocate, and Japanese environmentalist Kimiko Hirata.
Hirata’s work has focused on eliminating Japan’s old and inefficient coal-fired power plants – a major contributor to the carbon and other emissions that fuel global warming.
After Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was badly damaged in an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the government shut down many of the country’s nuclear power plants and increased coal-fired power generation, Hirata said.
“We had to start from scratch. People really didn’t know anything about coal… they didn’t see it as a problem,” she told Zoom.
“The Japanese people didn’t know where coal power exists, how many coal-fired power plants there are and the risks it presents,” said Hirata, founding member of the Kiko Network, a local nonprofit on change. climate.
As part of a nationwide anti-coal campaign, Hirata began in 2011, a website was set up to track proposed new coal plants, as well as a network of activists living in areas where new coal plants were being planned, she said.
Working with scientists, academics, lawyers, journalists and local community leaders, Hirata sought to raise awareness in public meetings and hearings about the negative impact of coal power on the environment. and pollution levels in Japan.
The campaign paid off. In 2019, the Japanese government canceled 13 planned coal-fired power plants across the country, preventing the emission of around 42 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, the Goldman Prize committee said.
“When I see the map of Japan, and where the (coal) projects have been canceled, these are mainly the areas where we have mobilized local movements,” Hirata said, adding that there are currently no plans to build new coal-fired power stations in Japan.
Hirata is now pushing Japan to completely phase out the use of coal power and pledge to use only renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, from here 2050.
But achieving that goal will be more difficult in a country where coal is seen as an important part of the energy mix and where health and economic concerns often take priority over climate action, Hirata noted.
Japan’s energy policy aims for renewable energy to contribute 22% to 24% of total power by 2030. Currently, the country obtains about 18% of its electricity from renewable energy sources.
“We can’t just shout, ‘Don’t build more coal plants! “We have to show a solution to those involved in the coal business,” Hirata said.

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