Xie Zhenhua, Chinese minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration, was awarded the 2003 Sasakawa Environment Prize by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a ceremony in New York Wednesday.
Xie was joined by Denor Giovanini of Brazil, who has worked to curb illegal trafficking in wildlife. The prize, worth US$200,000, will be shared equally by the two winners.
In a speech at the ceremony, Annan said China is going through a period of rapid economic growth that is transforming the lives of one quarter of the earth's population. Managed sustainably, he noted, this growth could contribute significantly to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
But if sustainability is instead regarded as a luxury or afterthought, as already happens so often in the developed world, the consequence could be dire indeed, extending well beyond China.
Annan praised Xie for his efforts during the past two decades to prevent that from happening, saying Xie "has shown great zeal and imagination in promoting the concept of sustainable development in China."
In a statement at the ceremony, Xie said he deemed the award as recognition and affirmation by the United Nations and the international community of China's efforts and achievements in environmental protection and sustainable development.
The Chinese government, making environmental protection one of its basic national policies and sticking to the strategy of sustainable development, has succeeded in curbing, by and large, the trend of environmental deterioration and improving the quality of the environment to some extent in a number of cities and regions while sustaining rapid economic growth, Xie said.
He noted, however, that despite remarkable progress in environmental protection and sustainable development, China is still faced with serious problems of environmental pollution and ecological deterioration.
Xie pledged the Chinese government's unremitting efforts to promote circular economy based on the most efficient use of resources and environmental protection, sustainable production and consumption so as to provide its people with clean water, fresh air, safe food and a healthy environment.
Meanwhile, Xie announced that he is ready to contribute the total sum of the prize to environmental education in poverty-stricken areas in western China.
The United Nations Environment Program's Sasakawa Environment Prize, sponsored by the Nippon Foundation and founded by the late Ryoichi Sasakawa, has been awarded annually since 1984 to individuals who have made outstanding global contributions to the management and protection of the environment.
(Xinhua News Agency November 21, 2003)