The TIME CO2 Earth Awards Gala at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City on April 25, 2023.
Bryan Bedder—Getty Images for TIME

More than 160 attendees on Tuesday graced the ballroom of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City for the TIME CO2 Earth Awards Gala, at which five people seen to be paving the way for a more sustainable future were honored.

The inaugural awardees of the new initiative by TIME and TIME CO2 are actor Mark Ruffalo and organizer Gloria Walton, who with the Solutions Project have worked together to advance both clean energy and racial equity in tandem; former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, who as Apple’s head of environment, policy, and social initiatives is trying to make the world’s most valuable company more carbon neutral; Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate, who at 26 has already become one of the world’s most powerful voices on the climate crisis; and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who in his position of power has refused to mince words on the urgency with which governments must act.

The honorees gave acceptance speeches for their recognition by TIME. They used the opportunity to take fossil fuel companies to task, to call for solidarity and hope, and to demand that a multitude of voices are heard in the fight to save the planet.

Here’s what they each had to say.

António Guterres: ‘People power is renewable energy’

Good evening and thank you all. It is a great honor to accept this award. And I do so, not only on my name but on behalf of the whole United Nations staff that is working around the world to support climate action and climate justice.

Since TIME magazine launched a hundred years ago, there has been plenty to report on: crumbling empires, moon landings, a world war, a cold war, a digital revolution. But climate was the story of the century—and it will be of the next. It is a story of the fight for human survival, and a story still unfinished: a story of recklessness, injustice, and greed.

We are set to increase global temperatures by 2.8 degrees centigrade this century—far more than the 1.5-degree limit on which countries have agreed. And this spells catastrophe, ecological destruction, poverty and peril for billions, and a death sentence for small island states.

Already, rising temperatures are wreaking havoc everywhere. And the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, who have done the least to cause the crisis, are suffering the most.

Fossil fuel barons continue to pocket massive profits, as rising prices strain household budgets and pollution chokes our cities. And protestors speaking truth to power are in many parts of the world arrested, imprisoned, and even killed.

That is the bad news.

But there is good news too.

There is also a story of hope: a story being written by people around the world, particularly the young. People on shoe-string budgets, or with no resources at all, fighting the fossil fuel giants spending billions to greenwash, distract, and deceive. People organizing, educating, and finding practical solutions. People like the Pacific Island students whose campaigning helped to secure a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly last month: a resolution to ask the International Court of Justice—the world’s highest court—to give its opinion on countries’ obligations to their citizens on climate change. So their efforts are making a difference.

And around the world, minds are changing and understanding is growing. A survey of more than a million people in 50 countries, conducted during the COVID crisis, has found that almost two-thirds described climate change as a global emergency. People power is demanding that governments act.

And in many countries, market economics are pushing in the same direction. The cost of solar energy has plummeted 85% in a decade. Investment in renewables creates three times more jobs than fossil fuels. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown that energy security is a pipedream while economies remain hostage to fossil fuels. We have seen the consequences.

Put simply, decarbonization is inevitable. Four years ago, no major economy had committed to net zero emissions. But today, 90% of the global economy has signed-up—although, let’s be frank, not always with the right time frame and not always with the right projects supporting it. But the world is set to add as much renewable power in the next five years as it has done in the last 20.

Simply this progress is not inclusive enough or quick enough. Even now, new coal power plants are being built. New licenses for oil and gas are erasing hard-won gains. And we are exploring oil and gas that will never be consumed. We must halve global emissions by 2030, but unfortunately, emissions are still rising.

And so governments must move much faster. And that is why I have proposed an “acceleration agenda,” urging them to hit fast forward on their net-zero timelines. They need to turn their backs on fossil fuels and deliver climate justice for vulnerable countries and vulnerable communities around the world.

And first-movers can demonstrate their leadership at the Climate Ambition Summit that I will host in September in the General Assembly of the United Nations. And all of you here can help to make those ambitions a reality—because people power is renewable energy that can move the dial. But we need to up the pressure.

So, my parting passage tonight to people everywhere is that now is the time to speak up, to speak louder, to speak ever—in your workplaces, in your companies, in your schools, in your faith groups, and in your communities. Tell your governments, your banks, and the businesses you buy from: no more excuses, no more half-measures. We need real climate action now.

And so, dear friends, history is coming for the planet-wreckers, for the fossil fuel barons and their enablers, profiting from destruction. Together, the rest of us can write a different story.

Vanessa Nakate: ‘Think about what you can do to help’

I am deeply humbled to be even mentioned alongside this incredible group of individuals—people who have each done so much to help address the climate crisis.

But I want to be very clear: awards are an important signal. They are a recognition of essential work that is being done. But awards will not save those who are already losing their lives and livelihoods on the frontline of the climate crisis.

People living in vulnerable communities—particularly in the Global South—have done little if nothing to cause the climate crisis, and yet they are paying the ultimate price.

We need action. We need to stop all new fossil fuel development. This means no new coal, oil, and gas. At the same time, we need to immediately and massively scale up renewable energy, especially for the millions of people in the Global South who still do not have access to energy. And we need to do all of this starting right now.

So I urge all of you gathered here this evening to think about what you can do to help make this happen. Whatever you do in your daily lives, please help us do this. We need everyone.

I also want to be very clear about something else. This award is not just for me. In fact, it is not for me. It is for the millions of people around the world who are holding leaders accountable and calling for climate justice.

The United Nations Charter begins “We the Peoples….” It is the people who fill the streets and demand change. It is the people who face down authoritarian power. It is the people who will hold big oil and gas companies accountable.

So for those who ever felt disheartened, ignored, marginalized, threatened, silenced, helpless, and hopeless, remember this: It is the people who hold the power. It is the people who are the real leaders. It is the people who give me hope.

This award is not for me. This award is for all of us: “We the Peoples.” Now rise up and act! Thank you.

Lisa P. Jackson: ‘Hope is the starting line’

Of course, I have to recognize all of my fellow awardees for the incredibly important leadership and inspirational work that you do everyday. I want to give a huge thank you to TIME for recognizing the role of women and women leaders in this movement. So thank you.

It’s an example, and it gives us hope. And it reminds us that hope is the starting line. You can feel hopeful at the starting line. But you’ve gotta run this race.

And so, throughout my life—I’m starting to feel so old when I say “throughout my life,” but throughout somebody’s life—I’ve tried to focus my energy on turning hope into action.

Now I’m going to be honest with you: it is not always easy to do that. It wasn’t easy growing up in New Orleans and feeling the enduring impacts of segregation in the community where I went to school and where I attended church. It isn’t easy, and it wasn’t easy decades later, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the home I grew up in and the homes of my neighbors. And I saw those impacts rear their ugly head once again.

And today, it’s clear to all of us that the consequences of inaction reach far beyond a single life, a single place, or a single disaster. Time and again, the communities hurt most are the ones who’ve raised the alarm for years, but their voices have been ignored.

But we cannot afford to ignore or to forget, or to put our faith in the idea that progress is inevitable and the next generation will do better.

Personally, I feel like the most hope I get is in rooms like this one: rooms of people who challenge themselves—and challenge me—to realize hope’s potential with action, with urgent action.

I was hopeful at the EPA—when we set clean air standards and we reduced emissions and made environmental justice a key priority. And I am hopeful at Apple—because we’re carbon neutral today, and with our plan Apple 2030, we’re working to make every Apple product carbon neutral by the end of this decade. So we do have hope. But more importantly, we have a plan. Hope with urgency. Hope with action.

Earlier, I talked about being at the starting line. But if you look around this room, look to your left and your right, I think it’s pretty clear we left the starting blocks a long time ago. The race is underway. We are running it. Now’s the time to continue to push each other, challenge one another, and build a future we can all be proud of.

Thank you so much for this award. Thank you for everything you do.

Mark Ruffalo and Gloria Walton: ‘We cannot talk about climate without talking about race’

Walton: Thank you to TIME for this recognition for Mark and I, and the Solutions Project, and all the frontline groups across the country.

Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, I witnessed my mother making $1 out of 15 cents—and not because she wanted to, but because she had to. We weren’t wasteful. We recycled. My mom would tell me to conserve water when I was brushing my teeth or washing dishes. We reused bags and containers. And we carpooled with our neighbors to save money that we didn’t have. We shopped secondhand, and we composted food.

And all of these sustainable practices are practices that Black, indigenous, people of color in low income communities—communities who are most impacted by the climate crisis, racism, colonialism—we all share these practices.

We cannot talk about climate without talking about race and how certain communities are disproportionately impacted and affected by it—living adjacent to freeways, petrochemical plants often with higher rates of pollution, minimal green space, lacking easy access to healthy foods, and more vulnerable to extreme weather and conditions. And on top of that, historically and today, they have been underinvested and disinvested in, and excluded from decision making.

When I organized in South Central Los Angeles for 16 years, it was clear that the communities that were on the frontlines of environmental degradation and systemic harm were also the communities that were at the forefront of building power and creating, driving, and leading transformational change: planting gardens to feed their communities, designing green spaces for children to play, building solar panels while creating good green jobs, innovating technology like hydro panels that capture air to create safe drinking water, taking an abandoned industrial site and transforming it into a wind energy hub.

Communities on the frontlines understand that climate justice is racial justice, that climate justice is economic justice, and climate justice is social justice. And while they have been underrepresented and excluded, they are building collective power and responding to the most intersectional issue of our time.

Ruffalo: I love you.

Walton: I love you, too!

Ruffalo: ​​I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. We’ve seen it in action.

So when I first started advocating for 100% clean energy, and I was one of the founding members of the Solutions Project, our aim was to accelerate the transition to wind, water, and sun, and educate people on what was available in the way of renewable energy. This was almost 10 years ago.

When that was finally accomplished, and it looked like the world had embraced the idea of wind, water, and sun for power, Gloria came to us to lead us into this new and profound era. She reimagined our capacity and brought with her this vision to support and uphold frontline communities. It was radical. And these communities who are already fighting for their lives—outside of philanthropy and outside of justice—these people could stretch a dime into $100, because they’re fighting for their lives already.

Now Gloria is set out to transform what we know today as philanthropy. She reimagined how we give support to those who have been historically underfunded and underappreciated by the philanthropic world. Gloria knows frontline communities, what they need and how to get it to them, because she comes from there.

Now, I’ve been doing this a long time. I lived in upstate New York, where we had to fight like hell to stop hydrofracking—without the help of most of the well-funded environmental orgs. So I know what a transformational leader who rises up out of struggle, living their values, looks like. Looks like this. [Ruffalo points to Walton]

She’s bold. She’s a badass. She’s powerful. She’s a woman. She’s a Black woman. She has soul. And she lifts everyone around her who is aligned with those same values, and even if they’re not. She brings with her kindness, compassion, optimism, for a brighter, more just future toward the beloved community that we’re all working toward.

The climate crisis—it’s overwhelming, especially when we’re reading the doom and gloom narratives that go viral every single day. We’re facing the impacts of climate change and fighting oppressive systems seems like a harrowing task. But the powerless we feel is intentional. Lobbyists, corporations, corrupt politicians, and those abusing power want us to feel helpless. They want us to give up our fight. Because when we’re helpless, we’re not a threat to the system. I have a saying that I have to say to myself often: “If you’re losing hope, you’re not doing enough.”

The good news is that we’re far from helpless. There’s so much—I mean, look at this—there’s so much good happening all over the world, and so many people joining us, for this movement, for positive change. And it is the most impacted communities who are leading. They are our strength. They are our North Star. They have relationships. They see the world in a relational way. Modernity has left them behind for a blessing of community. And they have the wisdom now to lead us out of the mess that we’re in today. We have to invest in that wisdom and give them power in rooms like this.

These are the people who are creating the most innovative solutions. Every day, we’re inspired by the work of our grantees. We have these grantees—we give them money and they turn the world into a beautiful place. And we’re inspired by them. And we need to hear their stories. We need to bring them close to us. We need to give them resources. We need to let them lead. We need them to lead.

Walton: Right on, Mark.

Ruffalo: Right on.

Walton: And we know our communities will never allow ourselves to be left behind. And one of the things that baffles me: Mark, did you know that 2% of philanthropic dollars goes to environmental issues? Two percent.

Ruffalo: Two percent.

Walton: Yes, and a fraction of that goes to climate justice organizations, meaning women of color and people of color. And recently, there was another study done saying that about $70 billion of philanthropic dollars that goes into the ethos—just 0.5% of that goes to Black women-led organizations.

Ruffalo: Think of that: only 2% of our philanthropic dollars are going to the very people who are fighting climate change and living through it today. Those are the people who historically have had to live in red-lined communities. They have been historically unappreciated. And now’s the time to change that, and that’s what we’re here to do. That’s what the Solutions Project is about. That’s what Gloria’s work is to do.

So, if there’s philanthropy and philanthropic people here, you know, think about it. Think about it differently. Because I’ll tell you, these communities will take your money and triple it in action. Take, instead of giving 2%, give 10%. Give 5%. Give 50%, you’ll see the world change.

Walton: And that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to be funding frontline communities and resourcing them to win. And what that means is that all of us need to do our part—government, business leaders, philanthropists, civil society. We all need to step up, show up, show out, follow through on these promises that Vanessa mentioned, and stand in solidarity with the grassroots.

Ruffalo: And let’s not forget Hollywood. I mean, we could do so much better. And the media. I mean, we all have our part in this movement. And the doomsday approach of climate change, which we’ve all I mean—I’ve fallen victim to. You know, I want to scare people into action. But what it’s creating is this “eco-anxiety” and this sense that it’s this insurmountable thing that we’re facing. So Hollywood and the media can shift this paradigm by spotlighting the incredible work happening on the ground today. It’s happening all around us.

Because when humans are most directly when the humans that are most directly impacted, tell their stories—like we heard tonight from Vanessa—we hear them, we connect to them, they move us, they show us a way forward. Now these stories allow us to channel our rage and our fear and our energy into positive action. These positive stories fuel us so that we can rise to the work that lays ahead.

And the solutions are right here in front of us. We have it all. To every problem we’re facing, there is a solution. It just needs to be scaled up. We already have begun the transition away from the fossil fuel industry, from the pollution, the unfairness, the disregard for humanity. So now we must rise up and hope for a cleaner, brighter, fairer, more kindly future. And all we have to do is just keep moving in the same direction that we’re all moving in together right now. And that’s how we get there.

Walton: And we are so grateful to TIME for this recognition.

Ruffalo: Yes! Come on, this is better than the Academy Award, man. We’re on the cover of TIME frickin’ magazine.

Walton: And it’s a testament that the paradigm is shifting. People are paying attention and listening to our communities. And as Vanessa said so eloquently—and honey, I stand in solidarity with you, the Solutions Project stands in solidarity with you—this award is not just for Mark and I.

This award is for the movement builders, frontline leaders in the U.S. and around the world—from Black communities solving food apartheid in the South to farmers sustaining the Amazon in Brazil to indigenous activists protecting their land rights in the U.S. and Southeast Asia. It is a representation of the power of grassroots communities that we have been building for generations. So all of us stand on other people’s shoulders.

We are here with our ancestors today. And I’m honored to be here tonight because I come from these communities. I’ve organized in these communities, and I continue to serve these communities. And this award is for them.

So this is an invitation for everyone in this room tonight—whether you are an artist, an industry leader, a politician, or a philanthropist—to do your part and show up for each other. Show up for the people we love. Show up for the places that we call home. We all have a role to play. And together we can create a society where everyone has access to clean air and water, parks and green space, healthy food, a good job to support their families, and overall healthier lives—where it’s not just a golden moment for a few, but it is a golden era for all of us. Thank you.

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