Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs Awarded Blue Planet Prize


Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has been awarded the 2015 Blue Planet Prize. The prize is presented each year to two individuals or organizations worldwide to recognize major efforts to solve global environmental problems. Many consider it to be the world’s highest such honor. The other recipient this year is Cambridge University economist emeritus Sir Partha Dasgupta (also a member of the Earth Institute Advisory Board). The prize is given by Japan’s Asahi Glass Foundation.

The foundation said Sachs has “re-appraised and proposed concrete solutions to the persistence of extreme poverty in various parts of the world, and the common problems that accompany it, such as lack of education, heavy disease burden, societal fragmentation, human insecurity and violent conflict.” It cites his role as advisor to United Nations Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, and his calls for governments, businesses and individuals to enact reforms to end environmentally destructive pursuit of wealth in favor of sustainable development and  fairer distribution of resources.

“I am profoundly honored to receive this award together with Prof. Dasgupta,” said Sachs upon the announcement.  “I am especially gratified to receive it this year, as the world transitions from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals. We have a chance in our time to end extreme poverty, promote social justice, and protect the environment, and the Blue Planet Prize has long stood for these vital and worthy global aims.”

In addition to his other roles, Sachs directs the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global network of universities and experts established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to identify cutting-edge solutions to specific challenges in sustainable development, including climate change, education, health, and ecosystems. He is co-founder of the Millennium Promise Alliance, which since 2005 has worked to help rural communities across Africa lift themselves out of poverty by improving education, health, agriculture and other aspects of daily life.

The foundation said Sachs’s recommendations for getting people out of poverty with basics such as better seeds, fertilizers and irrigation have “delivered strong results” in increased farm production. It said he has also shown progress in strengthening rural health systems and fighting malaria and AIDS.  It praised Sachs’ leadership in promoting sustainable development and combining economic growth with environmental sustainability, as embodied in the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals.  It recognized Sachs’ innovations in developing “Clinical Economics” and mindfulness in economics as pathways to sustainable development.   

The award has been given yearly since 1992. Two other Earth Institute researchers have received the prize: geochemist Wallace Broecker (in 1996), a pioneer in the modern understanding of climate change; and James Hansen (in 2010), former director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a world-leading advocate for cutting global carbon emissions. Other past recipients include physicist Charles Keeling, who provided the first measurements showing that atmospheric carbon dioxide was on a dangerous upswing; and marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco, past head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dasgupta, born in Dhaka (now in Bangladesh), is best known for his widely influential work in environment and development; he has worked on issues including climate change, malnutrition and population growth.

Each prize comes with a glass trophy and 50 million yen ($400,000). Sachs and Dasgupta will receive the award during a ceremony in Tokyo in October.