The winner of the 2023 St Andrews Prize for the Environment has been announced. A £100,000 grant, the prize is awarded by the university to the most outstanding group or organization working to tackle sustainable development goals in their community. There were three groups competing for the grant — Alianza Ceibo, BleagLee, and Circular Ocean.
Alianza Ceibo is a non-profit alliance of four indigenous nationalities working to protect their rainforest by mapping illegal activity in their forests. BleagLee is fighting Cameroon’s waste-burning crisis by taking the waste and connecting and incentivising waste collectors and waste owners to transport their waste to recycling centres. Circular Ocean is a group that has focused its efforts on cleaning up the ocean in Peniche, Portugal by recycling the plastic fishing nets and making them into a polyamide material that can be used as a plastic alternative.
All of the selected groups competing for the prize have done incredible work within the sustainability world and undoubtedly deserved the grant for their efforts. While I was personally unable to attend the panel decision for this award, the competing groups made their case and noted which projects they would expand on with the grant money The panel had a tough decision, but on November 21st they decided to name their winner: Alianza Ceibo, the indigenous coalition in the Amazon made up of Ai’ Kofán, Siekopai, Siona, and Waorani.
Left to right: Professor Sir Ian Boyd FRS FRSE PRSB, Chair of the St Andrews Prize for the Environment Judges, Elena Manovella, Amazon Frontlines, Alicia Salazar, representing Alianza Ceibo, and Professor Dame Sally Mapstone FRSE, Principal and Vice-Chancellor.
St Andrews Professor Ian Boyd, from the School of Biology, who was on the prize panel, noted that Alianza Ceibo is “attempting to stem the tide of extractive practices, such as mining and oil extraction, which are ruining what they value – a wholesome, functional rainforest”. Protecting the Amazon rainforest has wide-reaching impacts both in neighbouring regions and across the world, as the Amazon rainforest stores around 150-200 billion tons of carbon. Alianza Ceibo has already succeeded in protecting over 600,000 hectares of forest land, a number that will undoubtedly rise as they’re able to use the grant money to introduce new technologies and instruments in protecting their rainforest.
The involvement of indigenous groups and alliances in the sustainability world is a huge step for the university, and I am personally quite excited that such an amazing group won this grant. On top of protecting their rainforest, Alianza Ceibo has also done some amazing work within their communities including the introduction of clean water into their neighbourhoods, helping young girls get an education, and working legal cases for anyone in their community who needs it. Indigenous groups are often ignored in the discussions about the land that they live in, so hopefully this grant and award will empower Alianza Ceibo to broaden their initiatives and compel greater attention to their ideas. The university is taking a big step in listening to and supporting indigenous voices, and hopefully, this is the start of more of an integration of indigenous voices in sustainable development.
Image courtesy of the University of St Andrews.