Young Yemeni wins top UN Environmental prize

Omer Badokhon wins Young Champion of the Earth prize for biogas project that will help to fight climate change, deadly indoor air pollution and the spread of cholera

  • Omer is one of six inaugural winners from around the world to be announced throughout November
  • Winners receive US15,000 seed funding, intensive training, and tailored mentorship to help them bring their big environmental ideas to life

NEW York, USA – November: 8.10am (UN): The UN Environment has made Yemeni engineer Omer Badokhon a Young Champion of the Earth for his work on biogas plants which could improve thousands of rural livelihoods in his war-stricken homeland.

Omer, 24, is one of six winners – each representing a region of the world – awarded the new prize by UN Environment and leading materials science company, Covestro. The prize gives seed funding and mentorship to outstanding individuals, between the ages of 18 and 30, who have big ideas to protect or restore the environment.

“I am passionate about the environment and sustainable energy, and have dedicated myself to environmental protection, integrated development and biodiversity conservation in Yemen,” Omer said. “This award is a great honor that will help me to upscale my initiative, forge ties with international organizations and help my country.”

Omer, who holds a degree from Hadhramout University, researched the production and purification of biogas from landfills to generate electricity as part of his studies. He quickly realized that such devices could be put to good use at a domestic level in his country, and set out to do this himself.

The devices, which will be constructed locally under Omer’s guidance, enable the rapid decomposition of domestic organic waste, thereby maximizing the amount of biogas produced. He is working with a non-governmental organization affiliated with the Green Projects Centre to build prototypes and pilot the biogas plants.

“From boosting food crops in the Pacific to sustainable fashion solutions in North America, it’s a delight to announce the first Young Champions of the Earth,” said UN Environment head Erik Solheim. “The breadth of innovation and ambition shown by the inaugural winners is nothing short of exceptional, and proof that we must continue to channel support to the world’s younger generation for the solutions we need to secure a sustainable future.”

Omer’s project will help to solve some major problems in Yemen, and can be replicated to elsewhere to deal with global efforts to reduce climate change and protect human health.

The small biogas plants will reduce household organic waste, which emits significant amounts of methane and is a major contributor to climate change, and indoor air pollution, which claims the lives of around 4 million people across the globe each year. In Yemen, over 3 million people still cook over open fires.

Additionally, the project will help to reduce certain diseases known to be spread or exacerbated by the dumping of organic waste, such as cholera, which has affected nearly half a million Yemenis in 2017 alone.

“At Covestro, we feel strongly about giving young people opportunities to make positive changes that directly affect them and their own communities,” said Patrick Thomas, Covestro CEO. “Young Champions of the Earth has allowed this to happen via some amazing and exceptionally diverse ideas, which help the environment and benefit the world we live in.

“Our employees have also embraced the competition by becoming mentors to our Young Champions, which tells us that securing a sustainable future is highly important for them personally and professionally. We are really pushing boundaries with this and will continue to support the great work of UN Environment.”

About Young Champions of the Earth

UN Environment and Covestro introduced the Young Champions of the Earth competition this year to accompany its long-running Champions of the Earth award, which recognizes outstanding environmental leaders from government, civil society and the private sector. This new, young competition recognizes the importance of supporting the innovation of the world’s newer generation to find lasting environmental solutions to the issues increasingly affecting them. 

Selected from more than 600 applicants, the six inaugural Young Champions represent each global region (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and West Asia). Regional winners will be announced throughout November.   

What do the Young Champions receive?

Each winner receives the following: 

  • US$15,000 in seed funding;
  • Attendance at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, December 2017, and the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 2018;
  • An introduction to the world’s environment ministers at the Champions of the Earth Gala Dinner in Nairobi, December 2017;
  • Publicity and recognition through online and global media;
  • Access to high-profile mentors and customized training in communications, project planning, financial management and more.
  • Participation in an intensive, one-week entrepreneurship course in Europe in the first quarter of 2018.

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