Joan Carling. co-convenor, Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, speaks at the Global Landscapes Forum, Bonn, Germany, December 2017. GLF/Pilar Valbuena

U.N. Champions of the Earth Award recognizes eco-defender Joan Carling

Transformative environmental impact

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Environment and indigenous rights defender Joan Carling has received the 2018 Champions of the Earth lifetime achievement award from UN Environment.

Carling was recognized for her role protecting land and environmental rights of indigenous people for more than 20 years, UN Environment said in a statement on Wednesday.

“I’m very humbled by this Champions of the Earth Award,” Carling said. “It’s always important that we have hope. The U.N. now is the only global platform where all states come together in a multilateral system of finding solutions to face the challenges of humanity.”

Carling, who has served as chairperson of the Cordillera People’s Alliance in the Philippines and twice as secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, is currently co-convener of the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group (IPMG) for Sustainable Development. In December, through IPMG, Carling supported a memorandum of understanding signed by indigenous groups and the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn.

The Champions of the Earth Award – the highest environmental honor of the United Nations – also recognizes Carlings’ active participation in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), UN Environment said.

The annual award amplifies positive and compelling environmental stories: celebrating triumphs of hope over fear, truth over ignorance and action over indifference, UN Environment said. It recognizes exemplary people and organizations whose actions have had a transformative positive impact on the environment.

Since 2005, 84 laureates have been recognized in several categories, including policy, science, business and civil society.


In February, Carling was placed on a terrorist list in her native Philippines, an action that drew sharp criticism from the United Nations.

“I haven’t been home since,” said Carling, a member of the Kankanaey tribe of the northern region of Cordillera. “It has uprooted me: I fear for the safety of my family and friends. But I need to stay more motivated than ever. I cannot give up the fight for my people.”

As of July 2000, over half of the Cordillera land — which sits on a mineral belt, rich in gold, copper and manganese — had mining applications pending.

“It belongs to us, the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera,” Carling said. “Yet, our natural resources and way of life are threatened by mining companies and other so-called “development projects.”

As a student at the University of the Philippines, Carling joined a protest against the construction of hydropower dams on the Chico River, which would have displaced 100,000 tribal peoples. Many people who opposed the dam were jailed, a Kalinga tribal leader was assassinated and more killings took place in the name of national security and development, Carling said.

“Despite the threats, risks, and more repression, I persevered in my work, along with other dedicated leaders. What I learned from indigenous communities is this: when we destroy our landscape, we destroy ourselves. By defending our land, we also defend our future and the generations to come.”

The killing and jailing of indigenous leaders is heart breaking, but it has also strengthened my commitment to work on human rights and environmental sustainability, Carling added.

“I share this award with every indigenous rights and environment defender across the globe,” she told Landscape News. “This is a recognition and acknowledgement  that we are not enemies of states but rather as agents of change. Together, we can make a world a better place”


In 2017, at least 207 land and environmental activists worldwide, many of them indigenous, were targeted and murdered for defending forests, rivers, wildlife and homes against destructive industries, according to human-rights watchdog Global Witness.  This is six more murders than in 2016, making it the worst year on record.

The continuing killing of indigenous land rights defenders and activists clearly illustrates the intensifying conflicts in indigenous territories due to systematic grabbing of land and resources of indigenous peoples,” Carling told Landscape News in an interview in August.

The killings continue “due to lack of access to justice, increasing numbers of authoritarian states in different regions, and the use of violence with impunity to silence any opposition and resistance to this continuing colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples,” she said.

“The race to control and exploit the remaining resources in the name of development and skewed conservation, resulting in killings and criminalization of indigenous peoples, needs global condemnation and concerted action to make states and corporations accountable and to realize peace, justice and dignity for all.”

Recipients of the 2018 Champions of the Earth Award in other categories, include:

  • Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods recognized in the Science and Innovation category, for developing a plant-based alternative to beef and for educating consumers about environmentally conscious alternatives.
  • President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India recognized in the Policy Leadership category for their pioneering work in championing the International Solar Alliance and promoting new areas of levels of cooperation on environmental action, including Macron’s work on the Global Pact for the Environment and Modi’s pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in India by 2022.
  • China’s Zhejiang’s Green Rural Revival Programme  awarded for Inspiration and action for the transformation of a once heavily polluted area of rivers and streams in East China’s Zhejiang province.
  • Cochin International Airport in Kochi, in the state of Kerala, India, awarded for Entrepreneurial Vision, for its leadership in the use of sustainable energy, the world’s first fully solar-powered airport.


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