Nature and Biodiversity

Jane Goodall awarded the 2021 Templeton Prize

British primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall has won the Templeton Prize 2021.

Jane Goodall is this year's recipient of the Templeton Prize, for her groundbreaking discoveries that have changed how we view nature. Image: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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SDG 13: Climate Action

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit

This article was first published on 20 September 2020, and subsequently updated on 20 May 2021.

  • Primatologist Jane Goodall has been awarded the 2021 Templeton Prize.
  • The prestigious prize recognizes Dr. Goodall's groundbreaking discoveries that changed humanity's understanding of its role in the natural world.
  • Valued at more than $1.5 million, the Prize's previous Laureates include the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu.
  • Dr. Goodall urged the world to work together to solve climate change at the World Economic Forum's Sustainable Development Impact Summit in 2020.
  • Here's what you need to know about the Templeton Prize and some of Dr. Goodall's key quotes.

In a career spanning more than six decades, British primatologist and conservationist Dame Jane Goodall has earned many honours.

She now adds the Templeton Prize to the growing list of accolades, for her "unrelenting desire to connect humanity to a greater purpose".

Dr. Goodall was recognized for her "profound impact" through her "groundbreaking discoveries [that have] changed humanity’s understanding of its role in the natural world."

Investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, who died in 2008, created the Prize, valued at £1.1 million ($1.55 million), to recognize discoveries that yielded new insights about religion especially through science.

Previous Laureates have come from all major faiths and dozens of countries - and include the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu. Last year's winner was Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health.

The 2018 Laureate was His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan for his efforts to seek religious harmony within Islam and between Islam and other religions.

Jane Goodall's groundbreaking work

It was her work with primates that led Dr. Goodall to realize how much human activity was impacting on the planet's health.

In 1990, she flew over Gombe National Park, home to the chimpanzees she had been studying for 30 years, when she had a moment of insight, as she explained last September at a session of the World Economic Forum's Sustainable Development Impact Summit

"The national park, which had been part of the great equatorial forest belt that stretched across Africa, was a tiny island of forest surrounded by completely bare hills - more people living there than the land could support, too poor to buy food from elsewhere, overfarmed land.

"That's when it hit me: if we don't help these people find ways of making a living without destroying the environment, we can’t save the chimps or anything else."


Solving the world's problems together

But she said she was hopeful we can start to solve the world's problems together.

"We face unprecedented crises in the world today. We can't do it alone. We need everybody who cares about future generations to link up and try and work out a new green economy that is less destructive of the environment upon which we depend."

The Jane Goodall Institute began a programme that now involves 104 villages around Gombe, to teach locals about agroforestry, permaculture, tree nurseries.

"They've understood that protecting the forest is protecting their own future, not just the wildlife," Goodall explained at the session dedicated to the digital platform UpLink, which is bringing together young people, entrepreneurs and investors to help achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

And technology is playing a key role, as volunteers from the villages have learned to use smartphones to monitor the health of the forest.

"It's worked. If you fly over Gombe today, you don’t see those bare hills, the forest has come back," she said.

The programme has been rolled out to six other countries. One of the most important parts has been scholarships to keep girls in schools during and after puberty, as well as empowering women through education and microcredit programmes.

Here are some of Dr. Goodall's key quotes:

3 challenges to tackle the climate crisis

The climate crisis threatens the existence of everything on the planet, including human existence, Goodall believes. And before we can begin to tackle it, there are three major challenges we have to overcome:

1. "While people are living in abject poverty, they're going to destroy the environment to grow food to feed their family, fish the last fish, buy the cheapest junk food. They can't afford to say, 'Did this harm the environment?'

2. "We have to solve the problem of the unsustainable lifestyles of the rest of us."

3. "We have to recognize there are 7.2 billion people on the planet and already we're using up natural resources in some places faster than nature can restore them. In 2050, it's estimated there will be nearly 10 billion of us. So what's going to happen? We cannot afford to put that aside because it’s politically incorrect. We've got to think about it."

COVID-19 and the natural world

The way we have treated the natural environment has also played a large part in the creation of the current pandemic, Goodall believes.

"The tragedy is this pandemic has been predicted and to some extent caused by us because we have disrespected the natural world and animals. We have created environments that make it much easier for a pathogen to jump from an animal to us, where it may cause a new zoonotic disease such as COVID-19.

"Unfortunately, COVID-19 was incredibly contagious and has raced around the world, causing so much suffering, so much economic chaos."

But, to her, climate change represents an even greater challenge.

"To a great extent, it’s the same disrespect of the natural world that has led to the climate crisis. This planet has finite natural resources and we have been plundering them faster than Mother Nature can restore them."


'The window is closing'

"We have to realise we are part of the natural world and we depend upon it. We have been destroying the natural world, destroying forests and trees that can absorb carbon dioxide and polluting the ocean that can also absorb carbon dioxide. And both forests and oceans give us the oxygen we need to breathe.

"We are in the midst of the sixth great extinction, we depend on healthy ecosystems and the healthy ecosystem depends on biodiversity. Gradually we are poisoning the land with chemicals and we're destroying so many environments.

"We need to somehow move into some of these innovations of science, like solar and wind energy. Otherwise, for my grandchildren and theirs, the future is more than grim, it's very dark. We mustn't let that happen. We have a window of time that's closing and we need everyone who cares to get together and find solutions - now."

A family tree of Gombe's chimpanzees. Image: The Jane Goodall Institute
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