Celebrating UN Young Champions of the Earth Prize Winners Xiaoyuan Ren, Max Hidalgo Quinto, Niria Alicia Garcia and Lefteris Arapakis

by | Jun 10, 2021 | Podcasts, The Climate Daily

Celebrating UN Young Champions of the Earth Prize Winners Xiaoyuan Ren, Max Hidalgo Quinto, Niria Alicia Garcia and Lefteris Arapakis!



“Imagine two glasses of water, both looking the same, but one is clean and one could make you sick. How do you choose?” asks UN Young Champions of the Earth Winner Xiaoyuan Ren, whose extended family live in rural China. “This is the dilemma facing my grandparents. We are setting out to change that. Water should not be a luxury item.”

For many people in rural China, drinking a glass of water is often a roll of the dice. Agricultural runoff and chemical waste from factories have left about 50 per cent of the country’s shallow groundwater polluted, according to some estimates. Every year, tainted water makes millions of people ill around the world, a fact that Ren knows all too well.

Ren is the founder of MyH2O, a data platform that charts the quality of groundwater across rural China. The app lets residents know where to find clean water and connects communities with private companies and non-profit organizations that provide potable water solutions.

Since its launch in 2015, MyH2O has helped provide clean water to tens of thousands of villagers.

The MyH2O platform, which includes a mobile phone app, relies on a nationwide network of youth volunteers who are trained to test water quality and log their results into the interactive platform. The volunteers also conduct water usage surveys and evaluate the demand for clean water. This information is mapped to provide a picture of the state of water across rural China.

The platform also links communities with organizations and companies that specialize in cleaning tainted water sources. The MyH2O network and platform that Xiaoyuan Ren has pioneered addresses the root causes of deteriorating water quality while safeguarding water resources in underprivileged communities.And that’s why MyH20 and Xiaoyuan Ren matter to us.

DEEPER DIVE: UNEP, YouTube, Forbes, Kommunikasjon, FaceBook



This next Young Champion, Max Hidalgo Quinto, a Peruvian 30-year-old biologist and inventor, founded Yawa.  Yawa builds portable wind turbines that can harvest up to 80 gallons of water per day from atmospheric humidity and mist. His idea came out of the recognition that Peru is a country at high risk of a water crisis because of climate change. Even before human-influenced effects on the climate were first noticed, Peru was a country with consistently inconsistent fresh water for its people.

“There are communities that have been waiting for water for 20 years and rely on trucks that come in with expensive water of questionable quality,” he said. “We went to one town in southern Peru and the estimated cost of piped water for this community of 100 people was US$ 1 million!” says Hidalgo Quinto.

More astonishingly, projections are that 33 countries around the planet will suffer severe water shortages this century.

Hidalgo Quinto has always focused his mind on building technology that changes the lives in the world’s poorest communities. Prior to inventing the Yawa machine, he built an electricity generator in the shape of a flower, and a flower pot that can charge cell phone batteries.

Hidalgo Quinto’s Yawa technology is an example of a best practice in the circular economy. Materials used to build the turbine are recyclable and there is minimal plastic in the device. The simple-to-use technology is even being modified to adapt to local air quality — a response to the challenges wrought by air pollution. But most importantly, the technology is something that can be used, owned and repaired by the communities it serves, even if they are not clear on the science behind it. 

“Solving big problems doesn’t always require big technology. It requires creative ideas and big commitments. Don’t ever stop believing in your own ideas because you can change history.” Says hidalgo quinto.

DEEPER DIVE: YouTube, FaceBook, UNEP



Niria Alicia Garcia is a North American Indigenous community member leading the fight to save salmon in California’s Sacramento River.

“They are sacred to the Winnemem Wintu people and many other indigenous communities from California to Canada to Alaska.Another reason we are fighting to bring the Chinook salmon back is that they are a keystone species here,” Garcia says. 

According to Wikipedia, Keystone species are those species that have a disproportionately large effect on their natural environments relative to their abundance in that environment. Keystone species play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community, affecting many other organisms in an ecosystem and helping to determine the types and numbers of various other species in the community. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether. 

They’re called “keystone” because that species is like the keystone in a stone or brick arch. Lose the keystone and the whole arch collapses.

Garcia coordinates – alongside a community of indigenous activists – the annual Run 4 Salmon event using virtual reality to bring to life the historical journey of the Sacramento chinook salmon along California’s largest watershed, raising awareness of this invaluable ecosystem, the species and people it supports.

“Niria Garcia and Run4Salmon reflect how everyone has a role to play in addressing the world’s environmental problems,” said Tim Christophersen, an ecosystems expert at UNEP. “This is especially true as 2021 kicks off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Run4Salmon reinforces how we need everyone on board to change minds, change behavior and bring our societies and economies into harmony with nature.”

DEEPER DIVE: YouTube, Wikipedia, UNEP, Run4Salmon




Lefteris Arapakis is a 26-year old Greek young champion who founded the social organization start-up Enaleia in 2017, with the goal of teaching Greek fishers how to fish sustainably. himself is a fifth-generation fisher.

However, a trade that has meant a good living for millennia in Greece, has been decimated over the last fifty years. A 2017 analysis showed that 93% of the assessed fish stocks are overexploited, and a number of them are on the verge of depletion. In addition, the Mediterranean Sea has lost 41% of its marine mammals and 34% of the total fish population over the past 50 years. 

While on their boats, training the fishers, Arapakis saw two shocking things—one how much plastic was getting entangled in the fishing nets, and two that the fishers would throw the plastic back into the sea!

That led him to evolving Enaleia into plastics pollution education and initiating the program, Mediterranean Cleanup. The group trained the fishers to bag up the plastic they netted, bring it to shore where Enaleia’s staff cleans and processes it.

About 50% of the plastic Enaleia recovers is upcycled into new products. The company sends the PET plastic to a fashion company in Madrid that turns it into clothing. And an environmental organization receives the recovered plastic nets and upcycles them into the brand “Healthy Seas Socks” and also swimsuits. Enaleia is on target to clean and process about 45,000 pounds of plastic per month.

DEEPER DIVE: UNEP, Young Champions of the Earth Prize, YouTube, Healthy Sea Socks, EC.Europa