14 December 2009
Press Release
Note No. 6239

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Note to Correspondents

Secretary-General Designates Wangari Maathai United Nations Messenger of Peace

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has designated 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai as a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on the environment and climate change.  She will be inducted by the Secretary-General on Tuesday, 15 December 2009, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Messengers of Peace are individuals who possess widely recognized talents in the fields of art, academia, literature, sports and entertainment, helping to raise worldwide awareness of the Organization’s ideals and activities.  Through their public appearances, contacts with the international media and humanitarian work, they expand public understanding of how the United Nations helps to improve the lives of people everywhere.

Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan national, has gained worldwide recognition over four decades as an academic, environmentalist, women’s rights advocate and parliamentarian, often serving as the first woman in her position.

In 1976, she introduced the notion of community-based tree planting.  She developed her idea into an innovative grass-roots organization, the Green Belt Movement, focusing on poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting.  Through the Green Belt Movement, Ms. Maathai has assisted women throughout Africa in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands, including farms, schools and church compounds.

Since 2006, Ms. Maathai has been the patron of the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign, which has a presence in 170 countries.  Thanks to her advocacy and leadership, 10 billion trees have been planted since the campaign began.  Ms. Maathai is actively campaigning for forest protection, and serves as Goodwill Ambassador of the Congo forest.  She also actively promotes the issue of climate justice.

Ms. Maathai will be present at the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen next week and will be one of the leading civil society voices there.  In the days leading up to the meeting, Ms. Maathai has emerged as a symbol of unity among several climate change campaigns, including Tck Tck Tck Copenhagen, Hopenhagen, and Seal the Deal.

Wangari Maathai was listed 6th in the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency peer review of the world’s Top 100 Eco-Heroes.  She was included in the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global 500 Hall of Fame and named one of the 100 heroines of the world.  In 2005, she was honored by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and by Forbes Magazine as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.

In 2004, Wangari Maathai was honored with a Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.  She was the first African woman to win the prize, as well as the first environmental activist.  Under the Nobel Women’s Initiative, she and her sister laureates are now working with women worldwide to promote peace, justice and equality.  

The other United Nations Messengers of Peace and their areas of focus are:  conductor Daniel Barenboim (peace and tolerance); actor George Clooney (peacekeeping); author Paulo Coelho (poverty and intercultural dialogue); actor Michael Douglas (disarmament); primatologist Jane Goodall (conservation and environmental issues); violinist Midori Goto (Millennium Development Goals and Youth); Princess Haya Bint al Hussein (Millennium Development Goals and hunger); cellist Yo-Yo Ma (youth); actor Charlize Theron (ending violence against women); Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel (human rights); and singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder (persons with disabilities).

For more information, please contact Joanna Piucci, tel. +1 212 963 7346, e‑mail piucci@un.org; or Swati Ratovonarivo, tel. +1 212 963 4438, e-mail swati.ratovonarivo@un.org.

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For information media • not an official record