Helen Clark: Remarks at "Picture This: Caring for the Earth"

18 Nov 2009

The "Picture This: Caring for the Earth: photo contest winners -- with cameras (left to right), Simon Ngedwa/Kenya, Faiza Hajji Wozniak/Morocco and Jacob Otieno/Kenya -- are flanked by Helen Clark, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme and F. Mark Gumz, President, Olympus Corporation of the Americas at the awards ceremony.
Photo: Robert Maass/UNDP

Remarks by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme on the occasion of the “Picture This: Caring for the Earth” photography contest, New York

I am pleased to be here today this evening to congratulate the prize winners in this inaugural Picture This: Caring for the Earth photography contest focusing on Africa and the environment.

Next week I will be launching the Picture This exhibition in Tokyo during my official visit to Japan, a country which has made such a strong commitment to development in Africa. It is all the more fitting then that tonight we are unveiling the winning photos at the Japan Society.

I would like to thank UNDP’s partners in this contest, Olympus Corporation and the Agence France-Presse Foundation, both of which have sent representatives to be with us tonight. Their generous support for this project helps convey the very positive role which so many communities in Africa are playing in preserving their unique biodiversity, adapting to extreme climate variability, and helping the battle against climate change.

I thank our distinguished panel of judges : Mark Garten, Peter Magubane and Paola Messana, who are all with us this evening, along with John Isaac and Wangari Maathai. Together they brought a wealth of experience, knowledge, and insight to the judging process.

Above all, my heartfelt thanks and congratulations go to all the winners of the Picture This contest, including the three first place winners who are here with us tonight. They are:

  • Simon Ndegwa from Kenya in the ‘single photo amateur’ category;
  • Jacob Otieno from Kenya in the ‘single photo professional’ category; and
  • Faiza Hajji Wozniak from Morocco in the ‘photo essay’ category.

These awards serve a dual purpose :

  • They honour the quality and creativity of talented photographers, and
  • They portray what can be done by communities for the environment.

Environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change are a stark and everyday reality. The brunt of its effects are borne by poor and vulnerable people in developing countries.

Many of the winning photographs graphically portray people’s efforts to preserve or adapt to a changing environment. These images remind us that the state of our ecosystem has a profound effect on the terms and conditions on which we all dwell on this planet.

It highlights the pressing need to bring climate – and broader environment - considerations into the center of our thinking and planning about development, and to undertake urgent mitigation and adaptation efforts worldwide.

We stand at an important crossroads in our planet’s future. Indications are that climate change is taking place faster than previously predicted. Scientists tell us that we have about ten years left in which to prevent a rise in greenhouse gas emissions which could cause catastrophic and irreversible climate transformations and impacts. Clearly, the time to act forcefully is now.

All who are following the current international climate negotiations closely know how difficult it has become to reach a high quality, new climate agreement in December in Copenhagen.

For a new agreement to be reached, it will need to be a good deal for development. It needs to support low carbon routes to growth and energy access, and to support adaptation and the building of greater resilience to climate-related natural disasters.

While a new climate agreement is urgently needed, the inspirational work of one of our judges, Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai demonstrates that each of us can make an enormous difference for the better in protecting our planet.

It is our hope that, through this photography competition, and through showcasing the adverse effects which climate change and environmental degradation are already having, and what communities are doing about it, even more people will be motivated to make such a difference.

Once again, I thank our partners for supporting this initiative, and I congratulate the winners of Picture This: Caring for the Earth.