PM Modi, Cochin airport honored with UN environment award

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India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi before their meeting in the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/Files.

UNITED NATIONS – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Cochin International Airport (CIA) were feted with the United Nation’s Champions of the Earth Award, by the United Nations Environmental Program, on September 26, on the sidelines of the 73rd General Assembly, here.

The Champions of the Earth award is the UN’s highest environmental recognition celebrating exceptional figures from the public and private sectors and from civil society, whose actions have had a transformative positive impact on the environment.

Apart from Modi and CIA, the other recipients of the prestigious award this year are, John Carling, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the President of France Emmanuel Macron and China’s Zhejiang’s Green Rural Revival Program. The recipients were recognized for their bold, innovative, and tireless efforts to tackle some urgent environmental issues.

Modi was honored in the Policy Leadership category, for championing the International Solar Alliance, and his pledge to eliminate all single-use plastic in India by 2022, among other causes.

CIA took home the award for Entrepreneurial Vision category, for its leadership in the use of sustainable energy. Kerala’s biggest and busiest airport, and the fourth busiest airport in India for international traffic, CIA became the world’s first fully solar powered airport in 2015.

“In a world of uncertainty, this is certain: We will not solve the extraordinary challenges our world faces today without extraordinary talent, new thinking and bold ideas,” said the head of UN Environment, Erik Solheim, in a statement, on the honorees. “The Champions of the Earth Award and Young Champions of the Earth Prize recognize those not afraid to chart unknown waters or be the voice of the voiceless. These people are changing our world today for a better tomorrow.”

In a video message from New Delhi, Modi expressed his gratitude for the award, saying: “I would like to express my gratitude to the global community for conferring this honor upon me. This honor is not meant for an individual, but rather for the great Indian tradition, through which for centuries, we have been taught values like co-existing with nature.”

Modi added: “This struggle with nature has brought destruction, both on humankind as well as on nature. In this changing situation, all of us are putting emphasis on protecting nature. Whether you call it global warming, or whether you call it environment, or whether you call it carbon emissions, whether you are referring to developed countries or developing countries, no matter what phrase you use, ultimately we must all focus on climate justice.”

Modi added that India stands with the world on climate change, and “is ready to march with you, shoulder to shoulder in order to achieve this goal.”

Modi also expressed his delight at the recognition for CIA, writing in a tweet: “Delighted that Cochin International Airport’s remarkable usage of sustainable energy has been recognised and the Airport is a proud recipient of the UN ‘Champions of the Earth’ Awards. The Airport is an inspiration for several other airports in how we can leverage the power of solar energy for a better tomorrow.”

The founder and MD of CIA, VJ Kurian, who pioneered the idea of making the airport the world’s first one to be fully powered by solar energy, received the prize in New York, and dedicated it to the people of Kerala.

“I am proud that our honorable prime minister Mr. Narendra Modi is also a recipient of this year’s Champions of the Earth Award. I wish to dedicate this award to the people of Kerala, who recently suffered the worst monsoon flooding since 1924, and to our Chief Minister Shri Pinarayi Vijayan who led us during the difficult days, with his tenacity, fortitude and determination” he said.

Since she landed in New York last week, to deliver her address to the General Assembly, scheduled on September 29th, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has had a busy schedule, including attending the SAARC and BRICS foreign ministers’ meetings.

At the SAARC meeting, she delivered her speech, and then walked out, an apparent diplomatic snub to Pakistan.

Agencies reported that Indian diplomatic sources told that it was quite normal in a multilateral meeting to leave early after one has delivered the country’s statement. Officials pointed out that Swaraj was not the first minister to leave the meeting as her counterparts from Afghanistan and Bangladesh had also left before her. However, India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale was present throughout the SAARC meeting.

At the BRICS meet, attended by Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Aloysio Nunes Ferreira Filho, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu, Swaraj broached the issue of Security Council reforms.

“At a broader level, we need to develop greater understanding and convergence on issues of mutual concern in the coming years, if BRICS has to emerge stronger,” Swaraj said. “The discussions on the United Nations Security Council reform cannot be an exercise in perpetuity, while the legitimacy and credibility of the Security Council continues to get eroded. We, in BRICS should speak with a stronger voice rather than be divided amongst ourselves on this critical area of international governance,” she said.

Swaraj laid out her plans for counter-terrorism measures, an issue which has led to massive friction with Pakistan in the lead-up to the General Assembly.

“Dismantling terrorist outfits’ support infrastructure would be the first step. Terror groups such as Lashkar e-Taiba, ISIS, al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Taliban, and Haqqani Network are organized entities that thrive on state support,” she said. “Implementation of FATF (Financial Action Task Force) standards, across all jurisdictions, will strengthen international efforts in addressing terrorism.”

Allison Busch, Associate Professor, Hindi Literature, at Columbia University, received the “Vishwa Hindi Samman’ from Sushma Swaraj, India’s External Affairs Minister, in New York, September 27, Photo: Jay Mandal/On Assignment.

Swaeraj also took time out to confer the ‘Vishwa Hindi Samman’ to Allison Busch, an Associate Professor of Hindi Literature in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. India’s Ambassador to the United States Navtej Sarna was also present at the meet.

The Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted that Busch has been associated with Hindi literature for the last 30 years.

ANI reported that Swaraj, while addressing the 11th Vishwa Hindi Sammelan Conference in Mauritius, in August, had said that the onus is on India to protect and promote Hindi’s influence globally. The World Hindi Conference was first organized in 1975.

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