More than 1,300 biodiversity experts from 95 nations have shared one of the world's top environmental prizes for carrying out the first international scientific assessment of the planet's ecological health.
The 2005 Zayed International Prize for the Environment, awarded for 'scientific and or technological achievement in environment' went to the scientists for their work on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), whose final report was completed earlier this year (see Healthy ecosystems 'critical in fight against poverty').
"Many of these scientists devoted thousands of hours of work, voluntarily, because they believed the MEA could help to improve humanity's and the planet's future," says Walter Reid, the project's director.
"This award signals that the assessment is already having a major impact, and the added visibility from the award will help to enhance that impact."
The prize for 'global leadership for the environment' went to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who helped get the MEA off the ground in 2000.
And the award for 'environmental action leading to positive change in society' was shared by Angela Cropper, co-president of the Cropper Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago, and Emil Salim, former Indonesian minister for population and the environment and chair of many Indonesian environmental organisations.
The awards were set up in 1999 by the crown prince of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in memory of the environmental commitments of the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Worth US$1 million in total, the prizes are given every two years, and are now viewed as among the world's most prestigious environment-related awards.
The international jury that awarded the prizes described the MEA as a "landmark study on the condition of the world's ecosystem services from fisheries and freshwaters up to the carbon capture of the world’s forests".
The jury added that the assessment underlines the economic importance of the natural environment and demonstrates that the degradation of ecosystems is progressing "at an alarming and unsustainable rate".
Cropper, a former head of governance at The World Conservation Union (IUCN) — and co-chair of the assessment panel of the MEA — was recognised for her "visionary leadership and selfless public service" and "numerous activities for equity, peace and sustainable development at both international and local levels".
Announcing the prizes, Mohamed A. Bin Fahad, chair of the Zayed Prize Higher Committee, said the committee hoped that award money would be used to make the MEA's findings available to communities and political leaders worldwide.
The prizes will be presented in Dubai on 6 February 2006.