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[KUALA LUMPUR] This year’s prestigious Champions of the Earth award of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) went to two leaders from the Asia-Pacific, buoying up a greener policy direction for the whole region.

Launched in 2005, the award recognises innovators and leaders in the fields of policy, science, entrepreneurship and civil society action for “saving lives, improving livelihoods and bettering environmental governance and conservation”.

The president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, and the former president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, shared the award for policy leadership, which was given last 17 November in Washington DC, United States.

Remengesau was honoured for strengthening the environmental economy of Palau and inspiring other nations through the Global Island Partnership, which has mobilised more than US$130 million for island conservation and livelihoods.

Earlier this year, Remengesau declared the world’s first nationwide marine sanctuary to protect over 80 per cent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone from commercial and foreign exploitation while supporting a sustainable domestic fishing zone.

Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s president in 2004-2014, was recognised for becoming the first head of a major developing country to volunteer in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Indonesia is a country gifted with some of the most spectacular and abundant biodiversity on earth,” Yudhoyono said. “We want to ensure that we can leave that heritage intact for those who will follow us. This award holds the promise of a positive environmental legacy for future generations.”

Remengesau noted that “as the leader of an island country, I know we have the solutions to tackle these issues. We need to stand together to take action now to protect our oceans and our Mother Earth for our generation and future children”.

Other awardees were the US Green Building Council and atmospheric scientist Sir Robert Watson for science and innovation, Ocean Clean-up Initiative founder Boyan Slat and Horn Relief founder Fatima Jibrell for inspiration and action, and ocean conservationist Sylvia Earle and ozone scientist Mario Molina for lifetime leadership.

Explaining the significance of the award, UNEP executive director Achim Steiner said: “What our champions of the earth are demonstrating to us is that change is borne of many innovations, policies and shifts in attitude from individuals, organisations and movements all over the world. Here today we are assured...that this change is under way, and that we all have a part to play in it.”

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.