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Suren Gazaryan

Last Name: 
Gazaryan

An internationally recognized bat expert and zoologist, Suren Gazaryan led multiple campaigns exposing government corruption and illegal exploitation of federally protected forestland along Russia’s Black Sea coast. Read more »

First Name: 
Suren
Country: 
Russia
Bio: 

Photos | ру́сский

An internationally recognized bat expert and zoologist, Suren Gazaryan led multiple campaigns exposing government corruption and illegal exploitation of federally protected forestland along Russia’s Black Sea coast.

The Western Caucasus, a wilderness area along the Black Sea shores in Russia’s Krasnodar region includes a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in Europe. Ranging from sub-tropical zones along the coast to 10,000-foot mountain peaks in the interior, it houses thousands of species of plants, birds and mammals, some of which are globally threatened. It is also a popular summer vacation spot for Russians. This wilderness area allows everyone, regardless of wealth or social status, to access and enjoy nature.

Despite the area’s environmental importance, an elite group of Russian officials are seizing tracts of land, forests and shorelines to build luxury private residences near the Black Sea coast. The 2007 announcement of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, located in the heart of the Western Caucasus, spurred even more development projects, further eliminating access to public lands and threatening wildlife.

Meanwhile, recently passed legislation has placed enormous pressure on Russian environmental activists. The law targets NGOs that receive overseas funds and deemed to be politically active, requiring them to register as foreign agents or face heavy fines, suspension, closure, and criminal charges.

Motivation
One of these environmental activists is Suren Gazaryan, who grew up in Russia with a deep love of the outdoors. He was born in Krasnodar, where he studied biology in university and took up caving as a hobby while hiking in the local wilderness. Hobby turned to profession when his fascination with bats in the Krasnodar caves led to graduate studies and a career as a zoologist.

While conducting field research in the 1990s, Gazaryan came across evidence of illegal logging and construction that was destroying the bats’ habitat. He realized then that it was not enough to just study bats—he had a responsibility to protect them. Gazaryan set out to stop the dangerous activity, and began collaborating with Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC), an NGO working to protect the environment in Northern Caucasus.

Their first joint campaign resulted in success when illegal logging in the Chernogorye Wildlife Refuge was halted. However, Gazaryan continued to discover new construction sites in Krasnodar, including one for a lavish residential palace on federally protected land in the Utrish Wildlife Refuge intended for then-president Dmitry Medvedev.

Impact
As a volunteer activist with EWNC, Gazaryan organized protestors to physically block bulldozers from illegal road building and collected tens of thousands of signatures petitioning Medvedev to stop the presidential palace’s construction. He joined forces with fellow Russian environmental activists from Khimki Forest and Lake Baikal in demonstrations across the country to defend the people’s right to a healthy environment and free access to public lands.

Gazaryan used social media, which was rapidly becoming an important news source for Russians skeptical about government-controlled media. He authored hundreds of blog posts under his real name—an incredibly brave act given the current political environment—and shared video footage on YouTube that he filmed during his inspections of illegally seized land.

In 2010, after two years of intensive campaigning by Gazaryan and EWNC, the Utrish Nature Preserve was created with the highest level of protection available under Russian law. The 25,000-acre parcel of wilderness, located along the northwest coast of the Black Sea, is home to dozens of endangered plant and animal species. Later that year, the Department of Presidential Affairs announced that it was dropping construction plans for the controversial presidential palace inside the Nature Preserve.

This work came at a great personal cost and risk for Gazaryan, yet he refused to abandon his environmental activism. In June 2012, he was sentenced to a three-year probation for a public rally against the illegal seizure of protected forestland around the regional governor’s mansion. In August 2012, the Russian authorities charged him with a second criminal case for allegedly threatening to kill security guards at an illegal construction site. Facing a harsh prison sentence in a corrupt justice system, Gazaryan was forced to flee to Estonia where he received political asylum.

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Evgenia Chirikova

Last Name: 

Chirikova

Known as the “green lungs of Moscow,” Khimki Forest comprises 2,500 acres of federally protected parkland in a northern suburb of Moscow. It is one of the region’s last old-growth forests, and home to an abundance of wildlife, including numerous threatened plant and animal species. The forest’s walking and hiking trails also provide much-needed respite from heavy urbanization and air pollution to thousands of greater Moscow residents. Read more »

First Name: 

Evgenia

Country: 

Russia

Bio: 

PhotosRussia Press Kit

Challenging rampant political corruption, Evgenia Chirikova is mobilizing her fellow citizens to demand the rerouting of a highway that would bisect Russia’s protected Khimki Forest.

Known as the “green lungs of Moscow,” Khimki Forest comprises 2,500 acres of federally protected parkland in a northern suburb of Moscow. It is one of the region’s last old-growth forests, and home to an abundance of wildlife, including numerous threatened plant and animal species. The forest’s walking and hiking trails also provide much-needed respite from heavy urbanization and air pollution to thousands of greater Moscow residents.

In 2007, the Russian government announced plans to construct a highway that would connect Moscow and St. Petersburg. With no public involvement in the decision-making process, the government selected a route that would bisect Khimki Forest, ignoring alternatives that would have left the forest intact. The proposed route stands to yield significant profit from timber and development on open land close to the expensive and densely populated areas of Moscow, while doing little to relieve the notorious traffic congestion in the region.

The extent of the corruption underlying the project became clear soon after that: In 2009, Putin signed a decree that altered the forest’s protected status to allow for “transport and infrastructure.” That same year, the government awarded an $8 billion contract for the highway’s construction to Vinci, a multi-billion dollar French construction company whose Russian investment partners include a long-time friend and supporter of the prime minister.

Motivation

A young, middle-class mother of two girls, Evgenia Chirikova moved to the northern suburbs of Moscow so that her daughters could grow up closer to nature in the small, clean town of Khimki. The young family loved the outdoors and enjoyed taking quiet walks in the forest.

One day in 2007, during one of these walks with her older daughter, Chirikova discovered trees marked with a red “X” that tagged them for removal. Knowing the forest to be federally protected land, Chirikova was shocked to learn of the government’s plan to construct a highway that would cut through the forest. Without any experience in grassroots organizing, Chirikova left her engineering job to form the group Defend Khimki Forest, and began organizing public opposition to the highway project.

Impact

Despite the government’s continued efforts to suppress the movement, Chirikova has succeeded in garnering widespread support from a diverse range of interest groups. Even the Moscow chapter of the Russian Federation of Motorists, an unlikely ally for an environmental group, has joined their efforts to fight the construction project. Defend Khimki Forest’s first rally amassed a crowd of 5,000 people—one of the largest public environmental protests in Russian history—and gathered more than 50,000 signatures.

The most significant victory came when Chirikova and her colleagues convinced the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, major financial backers of the highway, to withdraw their funding, citing environmental, social and financial concerns about the project.

Government officials did everything in their power to stop the movement, including wrongfully arresting and detaining protesters and threatening Chirikova and her family. Unnamed assailants, likely associated with Khimki officials, beat activists and journalists questioning the project. Most notably, the journalist Mikhail Beketov suffered permanent brain damage and lost a leg and four fingers in a failed murder attempt in November 2008. Chirikova herself has been arrested and detained numerous times, faced baseless rumors of being an American spy, and fought false claims of neglect and mistreatment from child protection authorities who threatened to take away her children.

In this atmosphere of violent political and civil repression, Chirikova and her colleagues continue to fight for an alternative route and an absolute halt to the forest destruction. Energized by the erosion of support for Putin’s ruling party, Chirikova is breathing new life into Russian civil society’s appetite for political reform, and with it, the fight to protect Khimki Forest.

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Ursula Sladek

Last Name: 
Sladek

Deutsche │ Q&A

In response to Germany’s expanded reliance on nuclear energy, Ursula Sladek created her country’s first cooperatively-owned renewable power company.   Read more »

First Name: 
Ursula
Country: 
Germany
Bio: 

In response to Germany’s expanded reliance on nuclear energy, Ursula Sladek created her country’s first cooperatively-owned renewable power company.  

Nuclear Energy in Europe
Twenty-five years ago, the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the Soviet Union produced a radioactive cloud that quickly spread across Europe. As news of the event rippled through the continent, questions arose about toxic fallout and its implications for communities thousands of miles from Chernobyl.

At the time, West Germany relied almost exclusively on nuclear and coal energy to power its growing economy. A small handful of companies held a monopoly on the energy market, controlling most of the local grids. An anti-nuclear movement had been active throughout the 1980s and had gained some popular support, but German power companies did not provide opportunities for consumers to opt out of using nuclear-derived power.

Motivation
For Ursula Sladek, a mother of five from the tiny community of Schönau in Germany’s Black Forest region, the Chernobyl disaster served as a serious wake-up call about the dangers of nuclear energy. She and her neighbors were alarmed by reports about radioactive residue detected on playgrounds, backyard gardens, and farmland in Schönau. Suddenly, it was unsafe for Sladek to go about her normal routine of eating locally grown foods and sending her children outside to play.

In response, Sladek, her husband, and a small group of parents began researching the energy industry in Germany to see if there was a way to limit their community’s dependence on nuclear power. They found that power companies were not allowing citizens to have a say in energy production decisions. Chernobyl proved that though nuclear energy could be called “green” by some standards, the safety risks associated with it were cause for deep concern. Sladek also knew that nuclear energy was not the only option. Thus, the group began what would become a 10 year project to take over the local grid, and in a second step, allow people all over Germany to choose safe, reliable, sustainably-produced energy. This project would transform Sladek from a small-town parent trained to be a schoolteacher into the founder and president of one of Europe’s first cooperatively-owned green energy companies.

Impact
In the more than two decades since Sladek began working for clean and safe energy in Germany, she has built a company that now provides power to more than 100,000 homes and businesses throughout the country, including Germany’s best-known chocolate factory, which produces the popular Ritter Sport candy for export all over the world.

In the beginning, Sladek and her partners formed Parents for a Nuclear Free Future, and initiated a campaign in the Black Forest region to encourage energy efficiency. This prompted the public in the tightly-knit area to pay attention to its energy consumption and begin thinking more critically about how energy was produced.  As the campaign gained traction and began leading to real reductions in energy consumption, Sladek saw that people were committed to a sustainable energy future. With that support, she and her partners set out to take on the local power grid operator and bring energy ownership back to the community.

The power company KWR’s license to operate the Schönau grid was up for renewal by the local government in 1991, and Sladek and her partners developed a nation-wide campaign to raise funds and support for her group to take over.  The campaign led to two separate votes by the local people in favor of allowing Sladek’s group to manage the grid.  Raising more than 6 million deutschmarks (equivalent to 3 million Euros) to purchase the grid from KWR through their national campaign, Sladek and her partners became energy entrepreneurs practically overnight, setting up their cooperative company, Schönau Power Supply (EWS), in order to operate as an energy provider.  By 1997, Sladek’s company was in control of the Schönau grid. She took on the role of president and continues to lead the company today.

From the beginning, Sladek’s EWS set out to help create a more sustainable energy future for Germany by utilizing and providing financial support for decentralized renewable power facilities, including solar installations, cogeneration units that both heat and power homes, small hydroelectric projects, as well as wind power and biomass.  EWS still focuses on energy efficiency, incentivizing all of its customers to take steps to reduce their overall energy consumption. This is where EWS differs considerably from traditional energy companies.  Though German regulations required EWS to incorporate in order to claim ownership of a power grid, the company operates more like a nonprofit that prioritizes the environmental and social benefits of its work rather than its profits. The company has 1000 cooperative owners who receive small dividends each year, while the majority of the company’s profits go into investments for more renewable energy production facilities and outreach efforts that have helped several other towns in Germany set up their own community-owned energy companies. To date, the company has grown annually, with total sales reaching 67 million Euros in 2009.

The German government is now aligned with EWS’s sustainability ideals, with a goal of deriving 100% of the country’s power from renewable sources by 2050.  EWS has grown thanks to growing public support for renewable energy in Germany, and the subsequent measures taken by the government, which has encouraged investment in renewable energy projects throughout the country. 

Sladek has addressed climate change and energy security from the grassroots level, illustrating how social entrepreneurship and environmental stewardship can come together to tackle two of the world’s most urgent challenges.  She is now working to reach one million customers by 2015.

Quote: 

“A renewable energy supply helps reduce nuclear dangers as well as climate change and therefore is central for the future of mankind.”
- Ursula Sladek

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Małgorzata Górska

Last Name: 
Górska

Język polski Read more »

First Name: 
Małgorzata
Country: 
Poland
Bio: 
Małgorzata Górska’s leadership in the fight to stop a controversial highway project led to a significant legal precedent for the environment that resulted in the protection of Poland’s Rospuda Valley, one of Europe’s last true wildernesses. 

Poland's Rospuda Valley
While development and population growth have compromised the majority of Europe’s undisturbed wilderness, in Poland’s north eastern countryside, some last vestiges of the unspoiled natural environment remain. Here, the Rospuda River winds through vast tracts of pristine primeval forest, ancient intact peat bogs and wetlands that serve as flora and fauna reservoirs for the rest of Europe. The Rospuda Valley, with its unique ecosystems teeming with biodiversity, is one of Europe’s last great wildernesses. Home to endangered eagles and other bird species, orchids, lynxes, wolves, elk, wild boars, otters and beavers, the valley is recognized widely for its beauty and environmental significance.

Yet, as Poland’s newly-formed democracy began to grow economically in the 1990s, the Rospuda Valley came under threat. In 1996, developers began plans to route one of Europe’s most ambitious highway projects, the Via Baltica Expressway, directly through the Rospuda Valley, linking Helsinki to Warsaw. From the beginning, scientists and conservationists believed the highway would irreparably damage the valley. They called on developers to explore an alternate route avoiding the unique wetland ecosystems, though they faced significant opposition from the government that prioritized economic expansion over environmental protection.

When Poland joined the EU in 2004, it designated some of its best wildlife sites as protected areas, as required under the EU’s Europe-wide Natura 2000 network. The EU program seeks to permanently protect the most important natural areas among member states. If a development project threatens a Natura 2000 site, alternate plans must be explored and used when viable. The Rospuda Valley was listed as one of these sites. The proposed Via Baltica Expressway route would also cut through three other major Natura 2000 sites south of the Rospuda Valley: the Augustów Primeval Forest, the Biebrza Marshes and the Knyszyn Primeval Forest.

Citizen and Legal Action to Protect Rospuda
Małgorzata Górska, a conservationist with the Polish Society for Protection of Birds, played an integral role in the movement to protect the Rospuda Valley. She joined in the public outcry around the Via Baltica Expressway in 2002 and galvanized a coalition of activists and organizations, including WWF, the Polish Green Network and the Polish Society for Protection of Birds. Focusing first on activism within Poland, Górska and her colleagues met with lawyers developing a case against the Polish government, providing and writing opinions, appeals and data relevant to legal statutes. She co-led a national campaign urging thousands of people to wear green ribbons to show their support for saving the Rospuda Valley. Górska also coordinated the findings of the many Polish NGO partners researching the Via Baltica construction and the environmental harm it would bring to the area. She analyzed government data and reports supporting the expressway project and provided lawyers with findings to refute those reports. Górska also gave media interviews, participated in public debates, prepared a series of articles, and issued press releases and information about the project to journalists. All of those actions resulted in country-wide public support for protecting the Rospuda Valley from the environmental consequences of the road construction.

When it became clear that the Polish government was adamantly in support of the Via Baltica route, Górska and her coalition initiated a series of meetings with the European Commission about taking steps to block the construction on the grounds that Poland would violate Natura 2000 network regulations. She then played a leading role in preparing a complaint to the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament about the planned expressway and arranged a trip for members of the Parliament, other NGOs and scientists to visit the Rospuda Valley. As a result, the Petitions Committee prepared a report that was adopted by the European Parliament and presented to the EU that called for changing the Via Baltica route. The case was then presented to the European Court of Justice, which called for an immediate halt to part of the expressway project that threatened the protected site.

While the European Court of Justice considered the legality of the Rospuda route under European law, the Polish courts found that the project violated national laws and thus should not continue as planned. The pressure from both civil society and the EU garnered by Górska’s advocacy finally paid off. In March 2009, the Polish government announced it would not build the Via Baltica Expressway through the Rospuda Valley.

Following this monumental achievement, Górska continued the campaign to halt construction of the expressway through other protected sites: the Knyszyn Primeval Forest, the Biebrza Marshes and the Augustów Primeval Forest. Developers initially ignored strategic assessments that recommended viable, less damaging alternatives for the Via Baltica Expressway. However, on October 20, 2009, the Polish government agreed to reroute the whole controversial section of the expressway, effectively sparing these critical natural areas from destruction.

Quote: 

"The fight to save the unique wildlife sites in Poland proved that high quality nature is an important value for society, and if there is a will, usually it is possible to find a compromising solution for economic development and nature protection." - Małgorzata Górska

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Olga Speranskaya

Last Name: 
Speranskaya

Russian scientist Olga Speranskaya successfully transformed the NGO community in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia into a potent, participatory force working to identify and eliminate the Soviet legacy of toxic chemicals in the environment. Read more »

First Name: 
Olga
Country: 
Russia
Bio: 
Russian scientist Olga Speranskaya successfully transformed the NGO community in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) into a potent, participatory force working to identify and eliminate the Soviet legacy of toxic chemicals in the environment. 

Speranskaya formed a civil society network that has grown to include NGO groups, governmental bodies and academia in 11 former Soviet states. Together in equal partnerships with NGOs all over the region, she has focused on phasing out toxic chemicals and reducing harmful exposures to human health and the environment. Her leadership and the collective efforts of thousands of people are helping to turn around a legacy of pollution with impunity to one of proper care and attention. The EECCA NGO campaign towards a toxic-free future succeeded in pushing the national governments to ratify the Stockholm Convention, which would eliminate the release of persistent organic pollutants into the environment; 9 of 12 countries in this region ratified the Convention and now participate as full Parties at its global meetings. Toxic Legacy The countries of the EECCA region are home to vast stockpiles of highly toxic obsolete pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These are among 12 of the world's most toxic chemicals called persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Exposure to POPs can lead to reproductive, endocrine, and hormonal disruption, neurological behavior disorders, and birth defects. During the Soviet era, the EECCA republics served as the breadbasket of the country. As part of an agricultural assistance program, they received huge amounts of pesticides to aid in food production. After the collapse of the USSR, many of these countries lost control of the system completely, with stockpiles left unguarded and obsolete chemicals improperly stored. Moldova sent their stockpiles to France for elimination but other countries did not have this opportunity. Most of the stockpiles are found in poor, agricultural communities where unknowing farmers use the toxic chemicals on local crops or in their backyards gardens. Although many POPs, such as the pesticide DDT, are no longer in production, they continue to significantly harm human health and ecosystems due to their persistent and bioaccumulative properties, and ability to travel long distances away from their original sources. As a result they continue to poison people and the environment in invisible ways. Improper storage of obsolete stockpiles and broken containers leak into the soil, contaminating the water supply and crops, worsening the situation and providing additional opportunity for toxic release. In some parts of Central Asia, where DDT is available for purchase in open markets, the toxic, banned chemical is still used to make fruit stay fresh longer. Today, toxic substances are buried in ditches and stored in dilapidated buildings throughout the EECCA region. Governments lack the capacity, financial resources and will to systematically locate, quantify, monitor, inspect and identify the toxic chemicals. Many of the stockpiles are not recorded as part of national inventories. Poor regulations compound the problem as industry generates thousands of additional tons of hazardous waste. Partnerships Across EECCA Olga Speranskaya is Director of the Chemical Safety Program at the Eco-Accord Center for Environment and Sustainable Development (Eco-Accord), where she has worked since 1997. Speranskaya holds a Doctorate in physics from the Russian Academy of Sciences. Prior to joining Eco-Accord, she was a scientific researcher at the Institute of Oceanology. In 1992, Speranskaya won the Financial Times's David Thomas Prize for her essay, "What Will the Collapse of Communism Do to the Environment?" Winning this prize prompted Speranskaya to change the focus of her career, eventually leading her to Eco-Accord. Since 1997, Speranskaya has worked to create awareness of the health dangers of toxic chemicals. With the belief that the key to dealing with the Soviet toxic legacy was an energized, empowered, public-interest NGO community, Speranskaya helped to connect small NGO groups throughout EECCA to a single advocacy network working together to pressure governments to acknowledge and clean up toxic sites. In the ensuing years, she has led campaigns to eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), fought to ban the burial and transport of hazardous chemicals, provided information to government decision-makers for policy changes and fostered civil society participation. In all of these campaigns her work has shown a sensitivity to the delicate political contexts that NGOs work in, and as a result in many cases there is now government and NGO cooperation to protect public health far into the future. Soon after joining Eco-Accord, she took charge of the organization’s news service that informs the public about the environment, sustainable development and chemical safety information not usually available in digest form. Today, this news service has over 3,000 business, government, NGO and citizen subscribers who count on Eco-Accord to translate and summarize technical and scientific details and often complex policy decisions into simpler terms. Information on international negotiations on toxic chemicals and activities of international groups provided by the service helped to make a bridge between isolated local organizations in the EECCA and the international community. The service has also linked EECCA civil society groups to international networks, where they have been able to exchange information and participate in global activities. In 1999, Speranskaya became involved in the worldwide effort to eliminate POPs through the creation of the Stockholm Convention. Her participation in the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) not only connected NGOs in the region with technical and financial resources from the rest of the world, it also brought these NGOs into a vast coalition that speaks with one voice. The Convention, which officially went into effect in 2004, calls for the elimination and reduction of the release of POPs into the environment. Her campaign and the public pressure created by it greatly contributed to the ratification of the Convention by the EECCA countries; 9 of 12 countries of this region ratified the Convention and now participate as full Parties at its global meetings. In 2004, Speranskaya was nominated by her NGO peers to be Regional Director of the International POPs Elimination Project (IPEP) for the EECCA countries. Over the past few years, Speranskaya has helped NGOs implement more than 70 projects on toxic chemicals in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The NGOs have identified contaminated hotspots, analyzed the health impacts of POPs, developed proposals for mitigating these poisonous chemicals, and coordinated public participation in the identification of unauthorized storage and use of banned and obsolete chemicals. Since the completion of this effort in 2007, Speranskaya continues working to develop a chemical management and clean up plan for the region. Collectively, these and other projects are shaping the EECCA region's approach to toxic chemical-free future. Speranskaya has succeeded in fostering civil society participation in countries that at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union lacked an active environmental movement and had no tradition of participatory democracy. Her dedication to this work has enabled dozens of citizen groups and NGOs in Russia and other EECCA countries to tackle the overwhelming problem of toxic chemical pollution locally and nationally.

Quote: 

“This award is a great recognition of the work of non-governmental organizations in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Caucasus and Central Asia who succeeded in putting chemical safety problems high on the national agendas. Starting with local actions, our voices are now heard globally, which is critical for the future of our countries."

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Ignace Schops

Last Name: 
Schops

Raising more than $90 million by bringing together private industry, regional governments, and local stakeholders, Ignace Schops led the effort to establish Belgium’s first and only national park, protecting one of the largest open green spaces in the country. Read more »

First Name: 
Ignace
Country: 
Belgium
Bio: 

Speech After years of campaigning, Ignace Schops has led the effort to establish Belgium’s first and only national park. Raising more than US$90 million by bringing together private industry, regional and European Union (EU) government, local stakeholders, and NGOs, Schops has created a new model for land conservation in the EU and beyond. After Coal, Conservation The province of Limburg in northeastern Belgium contains large woodlands, extensive pine groves, flowering meadows and many rare and unique animals. Since 1901, when coal was discovered in the region, the amount of open space has dwindled, making way for industrial and community infrastructure to support the population employed by the mines. For almost a century, the coal industry thrived in Limburg, but in 1990, the area’s seven mines closed, leaving 40,000 people unemployed. The region around the old mines, a highly industrial and densely populated area owned by the government, is adjacent to Hoge Kempen, an area within the province that has retained its natural beauty, despite nearby development. Following the closing of the mines, jobs were badly needed in the region and several corporations wanted to build factories in the Hoge Kempen. However, very few precious open spaces remained in the province and a conflict arose between conservation and development. In response to pressure from industry, the largest coal company and the largest NGO for nature conservation in Belgium, Natuurpunt, founded Regionaal Landschap Kempen and Maasland (RLKM) in 1990. Their goal was to conserve the land in the province and continue to provide jobs and economic development. Through his engagement in nature conservation and his field study on herpetology (amphibians & reptiles), Schops began to see that nature conservation and biodiversity could be helped with a different, progressive approach based on enthusiasm and connectivity. In 1997, Schops and a group of friends began working with RLKM to campaign for permanent protection of a piece of the Limburg landscape through the creation of Belgium’s first national park. They believed that the park could provide jobs and revenue through eco-tourism, as well as conserve open space for the future. Since beginning his work in conservation in 1990, Schops had built a network of politicians, including mayors, parliament members and ministers who were willing to work with him. For six years, RLKM, Schops and his friends lobbied the government and funded the national park campaign. Under Schops’ leadership, over the next four years, more than US$90 million was raised from sources such as the Flemish government, the European Rural and Regional Development Fund, municipal and provincial development funds, the European Union, local stakeholders and the private sector. Many of the funds he secured were new funding sources for nature conservation and sustainable development which had not yet been utilized. In 2002, the minister of environment agreed to protect the area if a master plan was created and funding was secured. In 2004, Schops became director of RLKM and has spearheaded the final steps to securing the park’s future. Belgium’s First National Park In early 2006, the Hoge Kempen National Park was officially opened by the European Commissioner for Environment. It has become a source of inspiration for environmental protection in Belgium. More than six million people live within one hour’s drive of the park, and since its opening four hundred thousand people have visited. The projected economic revenue generated by the national park after operating for five years is US$48 million per year. The park has created 400 jobs for the local community and has conserved nature and brought economic revenue to the region. Five gateways to the park have been established. Car parks, camp sites and information kiosks are being built, and walking and bike trails have been developed. Souvenir stores and a cafeteria have been completed as well as shops to rent and purchase hiking and bicycling equipment. Additional attractions are planned over the next three years for increasing revenue, while still maintaining free entrance to the park. The first and only national park in Belgium, it contains nearly 6,000 hectares and stretches across six municipalities. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) plans to use Schops’s model of creating and funding the national park as an example for other member countries, not only in Europe but around the world. His model demonstrates how a successful public-private partnership in the use and management of nature can be an asset for local and regional development. Schops, as the director of RLKM, will oversee the management of the park and its continued development, and other conservation projects in Belgium.

Quote: 

“Let’s do at least what we expect from others. If densely populated, well developed and prosperous regions don’t take responsibility for biodiversity and nature conservation, why should undeveloped regions be held to different standards? It’s up to us. Let’s give a sign to our precious world!”

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Videos
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/sites/goldmanprize.org/files/2008/2008_IgnaceSchops_profile_FLV_320x180.flv,youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExQ9_167158, /sites/staging.goldmanprize.org/files/2008_schops_speech.flv,youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9mByDG19FM

Willie Corduff

Last Name: 
Corduff

In the small farming community of Rossport, Willie Corduff and a group of committed activists and landowners successfully forced Shell Oil to halt construction on an illegally approved pipeline through their land. Read more »

First Name: 
Willie
Country: 
Ireland
Bio: 

Small Family Farms, Big Oil Interests The small, sparsely populated farming community of Rossport in North Mayo County is a beautiful, unspoiled part of Ireland’s western seaboard. Since 1996, the discovery of the Corrib gas field off the nearby coast has brought a group of committed activists from Rossport into the public eye as they oppose the construction of Shell Oil’s illegally-approved pipeline through their land. Leading this fight is Willie Corduff, a lifetime resident of Rossport who still lives on the farm passed down to him by his father. The proposed pipeline would cut directly through Corduff’s land, jeopardizing the delicate bog ecosystem and threatening both the safety of Rossport’s citizens and the local farmers’ way of life. Shell Oil planned to start production in 2003, bringing the toxic, unrefined gas ashore at Rossport via a high pressure pipeline stretching six miles to a refinery to be constructed in neighboring Bellanaboy. Despite objections by many Rossport citizens, Shell was granted permission by the Irish government to run the pipeline across the property of more than two dozen farmers and landowners. By granting Shell permission to construct the pipeline, the Irish government violated federal environmental and development laws requiring local participation and review. In response, Corduff and his neighbors began a grassroots campaign to rally the support of his fellow Rossport residents in challenging the pipeline. In June 2005, after refusing Shell access to their property, Willie Corduff and four other men were jailed. Known as the “Rossport Five,” they were released after spending 94 days in jail. Protests ensued throughout western Ireland and since their release, the campaign to stop the pipeline and refinery has continued, with hundreds of people joining in the protests at the Shell refinery site, forming blockades. Due to these efforts, construction on the pipeline has been halted. In August 2006 Shell agreed to re-route the pipeline, although the changes are said to be minor and the new route is yet to be publicized. However, in October 2006, Shell broke ground on the refinery in Bellanaboy, making it clear that the pipeline project will continue despite daily protests at the construction site, where state supplied police guard the gates. Energy Independence: At What Cost? Ireland relies on the UK for 85 percent of its gas needs. In 1996 the Corrib gas field was discovered, 50 miles off the coast of the Mullet Peninsula in Mayo County and 3,000 meters below the seabed. Shell Oil, in partnership with the Irish government, Statoil Exploration and Marathon International Petroleum, planned to develop the gas field and supply 60 percent of Ireland’s natural gas demand. The Corrib and surrounding gas fields could earn profits for Shell and its partners in excess of US$60 billion. However, the community of Rossport would receive no royalties and have to pay full market price for the gas. To attract future development, the Irish government turned over all rights for the Corrib gas fields to Shell and its partners, with no tax dollars going to the state. Under pressure from the government, most of the Rossport landowners granted Shell permission to run the pipeline through their land. Corduff and six of his neighbors, who between them own more than 50 percent of the land needed by Shell to build the pipeline, refused Shell access to their property. Three of these land owners – plus two neighbors who supported them - were subsequently jailed through an injunction by Shell. The incarceration of the Rossport Five garnered international attention. The campaign grew from a local issue centered on environmental protection and safety to a national issue focused on the democratic rights of local communities. The Shell to Sea campaign, founded by the Rossport residents, has demanded that the gas be processed at an offshore terminal, thereby eliminating the need for the pipeline and preventing environmental harm to the region. Shell has refused to consider this alternative, saying it would cost millions of dollars more than its current pipeline plan.

Quote: 

"The bottom line is we will not lie down. We can not. There is too much at stake. We’d have to leave our homes if we were to accept this. We have to protect ourselves, because no one else will."

Image: 
Videos
Video Player: 
/sites/goldmanprize.org/files/2007/2007_WillieCorduff_profile_FLV_320x180.flv,youtube: http://youtu.be/lBkek2uX5gA, /sites/goldmanprize.org/files/2007_corduff_speech.flv,youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ka_X-efdMU

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