ENVIRONMENTAL CHAMPION OF THE WORLD

Oman 2016 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: UNESCO

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said is a proud environmentalist. The UNESCO Sultan Qaboos Award for Environmental Protection is a demonstration of His Majesty's vision, and a look into his country's peaceful outlook.

In a region embittered by conflict, Oman has not only remained a hub of neutrality, but has also demonstrated leadership in promoting peace and stability on a regional and international level. This outlook extends far beyond diplomacy, and is particularly noticeable in the case of the environment, which is an issue of special importance for His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said. His Majesty's devotion to the environment on a global sphere is depicted no better than by a UNESCO award named after him: the Sultan Qaboos Award for Environmental Protection. Among budding environmentalists around the world, it is a highly sought after prize.

On an international level His Majesty has proclaimed his intent to develop environmental protection and awareness through this award. The biannual prize was first awarded in 1991 and is accompanied by a cash prize from His Majesty of $70,000. The vision is to encourage individuals, groups, organizations, or institutions to demonstrate their dedication toward environmental management or preservation.

In 2013, the award was jointly held by the State Forests - National Forest Holding from Poland and South Africa's Endangered Wildlife Trust from South Africa, while past winners have included national parks, university departments, and scientific foundations. The variety of participants is a reminder not only of the importance of environmental protection, but also of the breadth of issues worthy of protecting.

Oman's discreet political stance is mirrored by this. While the prize encourages efforts made to preserve the environment, the Sultanate has historically encouraged the increase of dialogue between those that seem unable to find a middle ground. In the space of two months in 2015, Oman was at the forefront of supporting the release of American and French hostages from Yemen. Similarly, the Sultanate has displayed admirable cooperation in the redistributing of Yemeni ex-prisoners from the US-run Guantanamo Bay, a stark reminder of the country's dedication to peace and reconciliation.

Within Oman, the prize itself is a point of pride. The Undersecretary for the Ministry of Environment & Climate Affairs, His Excellency Najeeb bin Ali bin Ahmed Al Rawas, highlighted that His Majesty and the award were of great importance; “Oman is always among the first countries to sign international environmental treaties, conventions, and agreements that lead to international cooperation, and we make these a part of our own national legislation," he said in an interview with TBY. “The fact that we have named our ministry the Ministry of the Environment & Climate Affairs shows how seriously we take issues like climate change, which we recognize as a serious global threat."

Environmental issues are no longer separate from politics and diplomacy, and the Sultanate's dedication to supporting international environmental initiatives closely aligns with its enthusiasm for political stability. Although Oman's environmental awareness is not as high as it could be, the intent is there to support a serious change in this area.

Since the inauguration of His Majesty's UNESCO award in 1991, an Omani institution is yet to win the award. Although the award celebrates Oman's leader, it is also a reminder that there is much work to be done in Oman to promote environmental protection and awareness. Accordingly, steps have begun to be taken especially to educate the country's youth. The Ministry itself has supported the introduction of environmentally focused lessons into the curricula of primary and secondary education. Although His Majesty has been the country's leader in promoting environmental awareness, it will undoubtedly be the youth that will drive the pace of environmental development.

Efforts to secure peace internally and promote it externally have left many with nothing but gratitude for His Majesty. His name will live on within Oman and the rest of the world for centuries to come and his devotion to the environment will be a strong part of that legacy. The UNESCO prize is not necessarily the pinnacle of Oman's contribution to global development, but it is a symbol of the country's ongoing dedication to international wellbeing, stability, and peace.