Speech by Minister of Environment Mr. BÝrge Brende

Oslo Sophie Prize Ceremony June 15, 2004

The Sofie Prize to the "tree woman of Kenya".

The environment is not ours to keep. It is only ours "on loan" from future generations.

This makes it our common duty to fight environmental degradation, including deforestation and its serious consequences.

We need forests to catch, store and release the water that supports human life, wildlife, agriculture and industry.

We need forests for vital environmental services such as the protection of biological diversity and carbon sequestration.

We need forests for soil stabilisation and for the prevention of natural disasters with devastating social consequences.

We know that deforestation has been a serious issue in Kenya for many years, affecting millions of people struggling with drought and poverty. Massive and partly unregulated forest destruction has gradually changed the country's landscape, leaving less than 2% of forest cover today. These are challenges that call for action.

Wangari Maathai,

We honour and admire you precisely for your ability to take action. You are responsible for the planting of more than 30 million new trees. Each tree planted and tended to with care, courage and pride. Each tree of a local variety suited to the natural environment.

As the "tree woman of Kenya" you are not only responsible for new trees. Your many achievements also include the protection of several old indigenous forests and parks.

At the same time, your achievements go beyond trees. Trees led to community development. Trees led to increased awareness about social and democratic rights. Trees became politics. The planting of trees empowered women, making the Green Belt Movement a political force to be reckoned with in Kenya and in 20 other African countries.

Today, as a deputy minister, you have continued to fight for trees by making forest rehabilitation one of your main priorities. You started out planting one tree -today you are responsible for the sustainable management of the whole forest. It is equally significant that Kenya's National Alliance Rainbow Coalition, which you now represent, has made good governance and the fight against corruption a key priority.

  • This promises well for the people of Kenya and for Kenya's natural resources and wildlife.
  • This promises well for the continued success of the Green Belt Movement.
  • This promises well for Norwegian-Kenyan relations and for our recently re-launched bilateral cooperation programme in support of democracy and basic human rights.

Norway looks forward to being of continued support to democratic forces within Kenya in the time to follow.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Sofie Prize is awarded to one or more individuals or organisations that in a path-breaking or particularly creative way either point to or bring about new approaches to sustainable development.

Let me once again express my gratitude to Jostein Gaarder and Siri Dannevig for the initiative and generosity behind this prestigious prize.

Wangari Maathai,

You are one of those people that make a difference.

You have given a voice to the voiceless and you have stood up for their rights.

You are a part of Kenya's historical transition from oppressive rule towards democracy.

We need leaders to show the way- to encourage not only politicians, but civil society and every man and woman as well. I also hope the that Sofie Prize will inspire you -as you have inspired all of us -to continue to raise awareness of our moral obligation to take better care of our natural environment and to share its benefits more equally among us.

It is now my honour to invite you to step forward to receive the Sofie Prize 2004.