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Australian Environmentalist Wins $4 Million in World’s Biggest Climate Prize


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Australian Nicole Rycroft has just taken home the world's most expensive environmental accolade.

The Sydney-raised, Vancouver-based activist received the Climate Breakthrough Award in February for her dedication to creating climate-friendly, low-carbon replacements to goods typically produced from endangered forests, like toilet paper, clothing and packaging. 

Rycroft is the founder and executive director of Canopy, an organisation perhaps best known for “greening” the Harry Potter book series worldwide.

Canopy works alongside the forest industry's most prominent customers and their suppliers to increase product reuse and incorporate eco-friendly ingredients like recycled pulp and paper or agricultural offshoots into their products. 

Rycroft said the award, which came with a AU $3.9 million (US $3 million) prize, “puts wind in our sails” to continue fighting for a healthier planet.

"It is not every day you win an international award that allows you to take risks to solve the climate crisis and you get US $3 million to do it,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “Protecting forests is the fastest, cheapest and most effective way for us to stabilise. And the fact that Australia has one of the highest rates of deforestation, frankly, it’s just embarrassing.”

hilton leuser 2 copy.jpgThe Leuser Ecosystem is a forest in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra in Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo: Paul Hilton

The annual award from the Climate Breakthrough Project honours small teams or individuals who develop scalable climate crisis solutions.

The thinking behind the group's Climate Breakthrough Award is that, by giving resources to projects that have the potential to transform entire industries and countries, the worst of climate change can be alleviated and gigatons worth of emissions could be stamped out within the next decade. 

"Nicole’s novel strategy uses her corporate partners’ purchasing power and political clout to incentivise governments, packaging and fabric producers and the forest industry to change unsustainable practices and adopt solutions,” the Climate Breakthrough Project writes on its website. “[In 2013], very few companies knew their clothing was connected to forest destruction. More than half of the global viscose supply chain is now ranked as being at low risk of containing fibre from vital forests — a dramatic transition in only a few short years.”

Rycroft was selected as the 2021 winner alongside Mohamed Adow, an international climate policy expert from Kenya. 

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For Rycroft, the multi-million prize money will help scale up her work.

Rycroft said considerably more needs to be done if she’s to help meet ambitious targets set by climate scientists globally.

By 2030, scientists want between 30% and 50% of the world’s forests to either be conserved or in active restoration — a significant task considering an area roughly the size of California was lost in global deforestation between 2004 and 2017.