2022 Goldman Prize Winners: Chima Wlliams of Nigeria & Julien Vincent of Australia, Scientists Resurrect Ancient Enzyme to Boost Photosynthesis, Listeners’ Call to Action

by | Jun 7, 2022 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

2022 Goldman Prize winners, Chima Wlliams of Nigeria & Julien Vincent of Australia, plus scientists resurrect ancient enzyme to boost photosynthesis, and listeners’ call to action!



And the 2022 Goldman Environmental Prizewinner from Africa is Nigerian lawyer, Chima Williams. Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, is the continent’s largest oil producer and the 13th largest oil producer in the world. More than half of the country’s revenue is derived from the oil sector and crude oil comprises 90% of export revenue. Most of Nigeria’s oil fields are found in the Niger Delta, the 27,000-square-mile region forming Africa’s largest wetland, where the Niger River drains into the Gulf of Guinea. 

Today, despite the Niger Delta’s oil wealth, the region’s residents face high levels of poverty—some 70% of residents—and must navigate the environmental degradation caused by oil spills, pollution from oil wells, and gas flares on a daily basis. Each year, about 240,000 barrels of crude oil spill from pipelines and oil wells into the Niger Delta environment, contaminating water supplies, crops, mangrove forests, and fisheries that people depend on for their livelihoods. 

Environmental lawyer Chima Williams worked with two communities to hold Royal Dutch Shell accountable for the resultant widespread environmental damage in the aftermath of disastrous oil spills in Nigeria. Shell used its subsidiary, SPDC, to insulate itself from liability, claiming that it had no responsibility for oil spills in Nigeria because SPDC is the operator. 

In 2013, the District Court of the Hague ruled that Royal Dutch Shell could not be held liable for SPDC’s actions. Chima helped the communities appeal the ruling. During the wait period, Chima and his legal team gained access to internal Shell documents that revealed that Royal Dutch Shell knew that the Goi pipeline was poorly maintained and needed replacement—and executives had lied about it in court.

In 2015, the Court of Appeal of the Hague overturned the previous ruling, finding that Royal Dutch Shell could in fact be sued for its activities in Nigeria. 

On January 29, 2021, the Court of Appeal of the Hague ruled that not only was Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary responsible for the oil spills, but, as parent company, Royal Dutch Shell also had an obligation to prevent the spills. This is the first time a Dutch transnational corporation has been held accountable for the violations of its subsidiary in another country, opening Shell to legal action from communities across Nigeria devastated by the company’s disregard for environmental safety.

DEEPER DIVE: Goldman Prize, Enviro Rights Action, Twitter



Earlier this spring, a team of Cornell University researchers discovered a breakthrough in improving photosynthesis in certain crops which allows plants to adapt to rapid climate change and could help increase food supply to 9 billion people by 2050. 

The authors developed a computational technique to predict favorable gene sequences that make Rubisco, a key plant enzyme for photosynthesis. Rubisco likely existed 20-30 million years ago when C02 levels on earth were as high as 500 to 800 parts per million (current levels are about 420ppm) so its efficiency in absorbing Co2 could be helpful in combating climate change now. 

The technique the developed allowed the scientists to identify promising candidate enzymes that could be engineered into modern crops and, ultimately, make photosynthesis more efficient and increase crop yields. The study describes predictions of 98 Rubisco enzymes at key moments in the evolutionary history of plants in the Solanaceae family, which include tomato, pepper, potato, eggplant and tobacco. Researchers use tobacco as the experimental model for their studies of Rubisco.

Senior study author Maureen Hanson, Cornell’s Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Molecular Biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said,  “We were able to identify predicted ancestral enzymes that do have superior qualities compared to current-day enzymes.”

Why does the discovery of the Rubisco enzyme matter to us? It’s a silver lining in combatting c02 levels. It’s also setting an example of how we can use  technology to modify plants to be able to adapt to climate change and the demands of a growing human population.

DEEPER DIVE: Science, The Daily Beast, NewsWise



2022 Goldman Environmental Prizewinner, representing Islands & Island Nations is Australian, Julien Vincent. Vincent, 41, is a passionate fighter for the environment in Australia and the wider region. After stints with Oxfam and Greenpeace, in 2013 he founded Market Forces to combat climate change by targeting the financial levers that enable the extraction, refining, and export of coal and other fossil fuels.

Through Market Forces (MF), Vincent zeroed in on coal as a primary culprit for climate change in Australia. He grew a strategy of rigorous research and analysis combined with direct action and engagement with the financial institutions funding coal. In discussions with executives, Vincent combined monetary arguments (coal investments will be stranded assets) with personal appeals (think of the future for your grandkids). When targeting institutions’ coal policies, he built relationships with shareholders, engaging them to end coal investments during annual shareholder meetings.

At the same time, Market Forces empowered concerned employees through Facebook and LinkedIn ads; ran full page ads in newspapers and on billboards near financial institutions; and partnered with advocacy groups like 350.org, Greenpeace, and SEED to protest at bank headquarters.

In 2016, Vincent and MF organized “divestment days” across Australia during which groups of bank customers visited local branches of pro-coal banks, closed their accounts en masse, cut up bank cards, and posted videos of their actions on social media. The actions became annual events in October in order to keep pressure on banks to divest from coal. Gradually, MF’s campaign grew to include divestment from mortgage lenders, pension funds, and home and car insurance companies that insure and/or invest in coal.

In March 2019, QBE Insurance Group announced that it would stop insuring new coal projects and end its exposure to coal by 2030; in July 2019, Suncorp pledged that it will no longer insure new coal projects and will exit any existing projects by 2025. With this commitment, there are now no Australian insurers willing to underwrite new coal projects. In August 2019, Commonwealth Bank committed to end its coal investments by 2030. In May 2020, Westpac made the same commitment, followed by ANZ in October 2020 and NAB in November 2021.

DEEPER DIVE: Goldman Prize, Market Forces, Handelsblatt



Recently, one of our listeners shared her story of how listening to the climate daily helped her deal so well with her climate change overwhelm, that she got out and started working with the local community based group. Then she challenged us to ask you all to share any stories you might have of how listening to the climate daily might have inspired you into action, so we can share them with the world.

Remember, we’re all about sharing stories of people taking positive action to combat climate change. And that’s you listeners. You can hit us up on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at #wetheclimate or Jeffrey at TheClimate dot org or Maude at TheClimate dot org, too.