– A Chinese Government minister and the founder of a Brazilian wildlife protection group have won the top award of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the agency announced last week.

The $200,000 Sasakawa Environmental Prize will be shared by Xie Zhenhua, Executive Vice-Chair of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment (CCIED) and Minister of State for the Environmental Protection Administration of China (SEPA), and Dener Jose Giovanini of Brazil, founder of the National Network for Combating Wild Animal Trafficking (RENCTAS). UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will present the awards 19 November, at the New York Historical Society.

A UNEP press statement said Mr. Xie “has worked tirelessly to steer the world’s most populous country and fastest growing economy on an environmentally friendly path.” Mr. Giovanini, UNEP said, founded a group “whose innovative approach to curbing illegal wildlife trafficking has become a model not only in Latin America but also for the rest of the developing world.”

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said: “Both individuals have demonstrated, one at the governmental and the other at the grassroots level, how the complex and apparently insoluble problems facing the world can be tackled. Both have shown vision, patience, pragmatism and an understanding of the need to engage and encourage numerous actors and partners if sustainable development is to be realized.”

“It had, until recently, been an almost unchallenged belief that China’s dramatic economic growth threatens the environment and health of the region as well as the world. By working through national, regional and local governments, Mr. Xie has shown that this does not have to be the case. He has demonstrated that economic growth can occur without sacrificing the water, air and land upon which we all depend”, he said.

“Mr. Giovanini’s achievements towards curbing illegal wildlife trafficking highlight how creative solutions to one of the world’s biggest illegal trades can only succeed if the root cause – namely poverty – is also tackled. His success is even more outstanding when one considers the constant death threats and intimidation aimed at him by those eager to see him fail,” Mr. Toepfer said.

Ryoichi Sasakawa, founder of the Nippon Foundation, contributed to social and public initiatives both within and outside Japan, including the establishment of the UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize in 1982. He died in 1995.