Eritai Kateibwi is the 2017 Young Champion of the Earth for Asia & the Pacific

Young citizen of Kiribati wins top UN Environmental prize

  • Eritai Kateibwi wins Young Champion of the Earth prize for Asia & the Pacific.
  • Eritai is one of six inaugural winners from around the world to be announced.
  • Winners receive US 15,000 seed funding, intensive training, and tailored mentorship to help them bring their big environmental ideas to life.

2 December 2017 – UN Environment today made Kiribati citizen Eritai Kateibwi a Young Champion of the Earth for his work on a hydroponics system that will improve human health and resilience to climate change on the low-lying island.

Eritai, 28, is one of six winners – each representing a region of the world – awarded the new prize by UN Environment and polymer-producing giant Covestro. The award gives seed funding and mentorship to outstanding individuals, between the ages of 18 and 30, who have big ideas to protect or restore the environment.

“The majority of my people live in [the capital] Tarawa; they come to find jobs, education and health services, but end up living close to each other,” said Eritai. “With the rising sea-level and king tides, their crops are often destroyed. The Te Maeu Project will use hydroponics to allow almost anyone to grow produce at home and sell the surplus through a cooperative.

“I am humbled and privileged to receive this prize, it is a huge step forward and will greatly enhance my ability to make a difference.”



Eritai embarked on his project when he returned home as a graduate in finance from Brigham Young University, feeling empowered by his schooling.

He saw the problems caused by Kiribati’s reliance on imported, often unhealthy, food due to the challenges of growing fresh produce: diabetes, unhealthy children and a garbage problem from dealing with the packaging. He realized that locally grown, nutritious food would reduce these problems, as well as provide entrepreneurial opportunities to the local communities.

Eritai’s system, which relies on Kiribati’s abundant sunshine but uses only 10 per cent of the water of traditional crops, has already been used to produce lettuce, Chinese cabbage and tomatoes within 30 days. He plans to use the seed financing from the award to build 200 units. Families will receive training and purchase these through micro-financing, the proceeds of which Eritai will use to build and make available more units.

The system could have wider uses for other Small Island Developing States, who face similar challenges in terms of climate impacts and a lack of land to grow sufficient food.

UN Environment head Erik Solheim said, “From boosting food crops in the Pacific to sustainable fashion solutions in North America, it’s a delight to announce the first Young Champions of the Earth. The breadth of innovation and ambition shown by the inaugural winners is nothing short of exceptional, and proof that we must continue to channel support to the world's younger generation for the solutions we need to secure a sustainable future.”

Patrick Thomas, Covestro CEO, said, “At Covestro, we feel strongly about giving young people opportunities to make positive changes that directly affect them and their own communities. Young Champions of the Earth has allowed this to happen via some amazing and exceptionally diverse ideas, which help the environment and benefit the world we live in.

“Our employees have also embraced the competition by becoming mentors to our Young Champions, which tells us that securing a sustainable future is highly important for them personally and professionally. We are really pushing boundaries with this and will continue to support the great work of UN Environment.”

About Young Champions of the Earth

UN Environment and Covestro introduced the Young Champions of the Earth competition this year to accompany its long-running Champions of the Earth award, which recognizes outstanding environmental leaders from government, civil society and the private sector. This new, young competition recognizes the importance of supporting the innovation of the world’s newer generation to find lasting environmental solutions to the issues increasingly affecting them. 

Selected from more than 600 applicants, the six inaugural Young Champions represent each global region (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and West Asia). Regional winners will be announced throughout November.   

What do the Young Champions receive?

Each winner receives the following: 

  • US$15,000 in seed funding;
  • Attendance at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, December 2017, and the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 2018;
  • An introduction to the world’s environment ministers at the Champions of the Earth Gala Dinner in Nairobi, December 2017;
  • Publicity and recognition through online and global media;
  • Access to high-profile mentors and customized training in communications, project planning, financial management and more.
  • Participation in an intensive, one-week entrepreneurship course in Europe in the first quarter of 2018.


About UN Environment

UN Environment is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UN Environment works with governments, the private sector, the civil society and with other UN entities and international organizations across the world.

About Covestro

With 2016 sales of EUR 11.9 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, electrical and electronics, construction and sports and leisure industries. Covestro, formerly Bayer MaterialScience, has 30 production sites worldwide and employs approximately 15,600 people (calculated as full-time equivalents) at the end of 2016.

For more information, please contact:

Robert Few, Head of News and Media, UN Environment, +254 715 618 081,