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Meet the winners of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize

Winners of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize. Image by the Goldman Environmental Prize.

  • Six of the seven winners of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize recipients are women.
  • Dubbed the Green Nobel Prize, the annual award honors grassroots environmental heroes from Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and islands and island nations.
  • This year’s winners are Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid from South Africa; Claire Nouvian from France; Francia Márquez from Colombia; Khanh Nguy Thi from Vietnam; LeeAnne Walters from the United States; and Manny Calonzo from the Philippines.

The Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s most prestigious award for grassroots environmental activism, has announced seven winners this year. Six of the winners are women.

Dubbed the Green Nobel Prize, the annual award honors grassroots environmental heroes from Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and islands and island nations.

This year’s winners include activists who built a coalition to stop the South African government’s “secret” $76 billion nuclear deal with Russia; a former journalist and filmmaker whose advocacy campaign resulted in a European Union-wide ban on deep-sea bottom trawling; a leader of the Afro-Colombian community who helped stop illegal gold mining; an activist who helped support Vietnam’s transition to more renewable and sustainable energy solutions; a stay-at-home mom who exposed the Flint water crisis in the U.S.; and an environmental activist whose advocacy campaign was instrumental in helping enact lead-safe paint regulations in the Philippines.

The winners will be awarded the prize at the San Francisco Opera House in California, U.S., on April 23. This will be followed by a ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., on April 25.

Here are the winners of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, South Africa

Makoma Lekalakala, director of the volunteer-driven environmental group Earthlife Africa, and Liz McDaid, an environmentalist at SAFCEI (Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute), together challenged a $76 billion “secret” nuclear power deal that South Africa’s government had made with Russia. The deal aimed to develop 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear energy through eight to 10 nuclear power plants throughout South Africa.

Concerned about the environmental impacts resulting from the scaling up of South Africa’s uranium mining and nuclear waste production, Lekalakala and McDaid exposed the details of the Russian nuclear deal, raised public awareness through rallies and anti-nuclear vigils, and challenged the legal standing of the nuclear deal in court.

In April 2017, their efforts resulted in a landmark victory, when the Western Cape High Court ruled that the South Africa-Russia nuclear deal was both unlawful and unconstitutional.

Makoma Lekalakala, right, and Liz McDaid, South Africa. Image by Goldman Environment Prize.

Claire Nouvian, France

Claire Nouvian, president and founder of the nonprofit conservation group BLOOM, based in Paris and Hong Kong, won this year’s Goldman prize for her advocacy campaign against the practice of using bottom trawls — giant fishing nets that drag along the seafloor and scoop up huge amounts of fish — in the deep sea.

Nouvian was working on a book on deep-sea creatures when she discovered the widespread damage that bottom-trawling causes in deep-sea ecosystems. She also found that France lacked policies to protect those ecosystems.

Nouvian gathered evidence and won a legal battle against Intermarché, a French supermarket giant and owner of a deep-sea fishing fleet, over advertising campaigns that falsely claimed its fishing practices weren’t harmful to the marine environment. Nouvian also launched a successful data-driven campaign that contributed to France supporting a ban on deep-sea bottom-trawling, which led to an EU-wide ban on the practice.

Claire Nouvian, France. Image by Goldman Environment Prize.

Francia Márquez, Colombia

This year’s winner from Latin America is Francia Márquez, the leader of an Afro-Colombian community in La Toma, a town in the Cauca Mountains of southwest Colombia. Márquez has been instrumental in stopping illegal gold mining in the region, despite death threats against her family.

In November 2014, for example, Márquez organized a 10-day, 350-kilometer (217-mile) march of 80 women to Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, bringing national attention to the environmental and social destruction that illegal gold mining was causing in La Toma and other communities in the Cauca region.

Márquez and the community of La Toma also clinched a deal with the Colombian government to end illegal mining in La Toma. By the end of 2016, all illegal mining operations in La Toma had ended, and the Colombian security forces had physically removed or destroyed illegal mining machinery operating in the town.

Francia Márquez, Colombia. Image by Goldman Environment Prize.

Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam

Khanh Nguy Thi, the co-founder of Vietnam’s Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID), won this year’s prize for her efforts to usher in a greener energy plan for Vietnam.

After the Vietnamese government published its 2016-2030 Power Development Plan in 2011, outlining the country’s future energy needs, Khanh advocated for reduced dependency on coal power and worked with colleagues and state officials to develop an alternative, greener energy plan.

Her research and efforts helped support the Vietnamese government’s announcement of its revised Power Development Plan in March 2016 — one that depended more on renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass, and much less on coal-fired power plants.

Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam. Image by Goldman Environment Prize.

LeeAnne Walters, United States

LeeAnne Walters, a stay-at-home mom in Flint, Michigan, brought to attention the now well-known Flint water crisis.

Walters knew something was wrong with Flint’s water when she and her 3-year-old twin daughters began losing hair in 2014. Around the same time, the water from her kitchen sink started coming out brown. Walters got her home’s tap water tested and found that it had very high levels of lead (104 parts per billion). She also discovered that all of her four children had high levels of exposure to lead, while one of the twins was diagnosed with lead poisoning.

Walters led a citizens’ movement, garnering support to test tap water across Flint. Her efforts led to the exposure of the Flint water crisis, and compelled the local, state and federal governments to ensure access to clean drinking water.

LeeAnne Walters, United States. Image by Goldman Environment Prize.

Manny Calonzo, the Philippines

Environmental activist Manny Calonzo won this year’s Goldman prize for his campaign against lead-based paint in the Philippines.

Calonzo, through the NGO EcoWaste, conducted several studies that showed the majority of paint sold in the Philippines contained harmful levels of lead, and that children in the country were being exposed to high lead levels. Following these findings, Calonzo started building alliances in support of eliminating lead paint, and called for national regulations mandating lead-safe paint across the Philippines.
In December 2013, the Philippine government established a mandatory maximum limit of 90 parts per million for lead in paint; as of January 2017, 85 percent of paint in the country has been certified as lead-safe.

Manny Calonzo, the Philippines. Image by Goldman Environment Prize.