September 26, 2011

INECE Mourns Loss of Environmental Visionary Wangari Maathai

Filed under: Africa, INECE Secretariat — inece @ 7:48 am

Washington, DC, September 26, 2011 – Wangarai Maathai, climate luminary and Africa’s first female Nobel Peace Prize winner passed away on September 25th, 2011.

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

She was 71 years old. Ms. Maathai was recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

INECE Director Durwood Zaelke stated, “The environment lost one of its most heroic defenders with the passing of Wangari Maathai. She inspired so many of us to protect our planet. Wangari gave us courage and she gave us hope and even humor. While her work and her memory will carry on, we will all be a bit lonelier and sadder without her infectious spirit and radiant smile that always made us want dance or sing while we worked to fought on.”

In 2004, Ms. Maathai was also awarded a Sophie Prize, given to an individual or organization working toward a sustainable future. Ms. Maathai was presented with the Sophie Prize to honor her social, environmental, and democratic activism.

Ms. Maathai is best known for her novel efforts combining environmentalism and social activism. The Green Belt Movement, founded by Maathai, encouraged women in rural Kenya to plant trees in order to improve their ecosystem and better their lifestyle, gaining access to cleaner water, firewood, and cleaner air as a result.

In 2008 at the 8th International Conference of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement, Ms. Maathai urged the world’s top environmental law enforcement specialists to toughen enforcement and compliance with environmental laws, including those that address climate emissions and protect the world’s forests, which absorb and store carbon dioxide, the principle greenhouse gas responsible for warming the planet.

She stated:

“I know how important it is for us to have laws that protect the environment. But I want to agree with my friend Durwood Zaelke that even more important is to comply. Here in Kenya we have been fighting so hard for many years to force not only the private companies, individual entrepreneurs, but even the government to comply with the laws that are in our books. For without compliance, we cannot have sustainable development. Compliance is part of good governance. It’s part of having a rule of law, having an effective rule of law. Without that, you cannot have sustainable development. The two of them are important; one is not going to be effective on its own. We need both of them at the same time.

“You should be very proud of the organization because you are here focusing on an extremely important area. I know that many of you are lawyers and you understand the value not only of the letter, but also of the action. I understand that one of the areas you are focusing on is climate change as part of your theme for this year. Now, climate change remains one of the greatest challenges on the planet, not only for environmentalists, not only for climatologists, but for all of us. As we all know, it’s one thing to sign the treaty, it’s one thing to be part of the Kyoto Protocol, but it’s a completely different thing to go home, domesticate the treaty or the agreements and make efforts to have the treaty complied with, especially in the area of protecting forests.

“As you know, we are very concerned about the forests because we are informed that 20 percent of our climate emissions are from cutting forests. And this is particularly of concern in Africa, where the majority of our people still use firewood and still need to clear forests and clear vegetation in order to make room for agriculture. Forests are extremely important for Africa. They really must be protected and they must be in the next treaty.”

The transcript of her comments is here and the video here.

Wangari Maathai’s dedication to a sustainable future has resulted in the planting of an estimated 45 billion trees. The Green Belt Movement has helped over 900,000 women, according to the United Nations. Ms. Maathai contributed immeasurably to the environmental movement, and will be greatly missed.

You may share your condolences for Ms. Maathai via the Greenbelt Movement page at


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