The United Nations has awarded Taro Takahashi, a geochemist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, its highest honor for environmental leadership, the Champions of the Earth award, for his research on the oceans’ uptake of carbon dioxide and its implications for global warming. He was presented with a trophy and a $40,000 prize on Thursday, April 22, in a ceremony in South Korea.
“Dr. Takahashi has pioneered the science of climate change as it relates to the seas and oceans,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme. “His work not only underlines the threats but also the policy choices governments and investors must make to ensure the marine realm remains healthy, productive and an ally against climate change.”
Takahashi came to Lamont in 1957, after finishing his PhD at Columbia University. Lamont’s founding director, Maurice “Doc” Ewing, sent him on a 10-month expedition to measure the ocean’s uptake of carbon. Takahashi would later pinpoint where carbon was being released, and where it was being stored–the oceanic sources and sinks of atmospheric carbon. He would also explain the causes for this uneven distribution. Climate modelers still use his measurements in making predictions about future carbon dioxide levels and climate.
In a report published last year, Takahashi and a team of researchers found that in 2008 each person on the planet produced 1.3 tons of carbon—an all-time high–despite a global recession that slowed the growth of fossil fuel emissions for the first time this decade.
“Reduction of CO₂ emissions is a very urgent task,” he said at the time. “Global population is increasing, and so is the standard of living for the developing world. We need to conserve energy by building more efficient cars and power plants. We should also develop technology to capture carbon dioxide from the air and store it away permanently.”
Takahashi is one of six environmental leaders to be recognized. The others include the presidents of the rain forest-rich nation of Guyana and the sea-threatened Maldive Islands; a Chinese actress who promotes green living; the head of Afghanistan’s environmental protection agency; and an American venture capitalist who co-founded Sun Microsystems. “The six winners represent some of the key pillars upon which society can build Green Growth and a development path to unite rather than divide six billion people,” said Steiner.
The U.N. established its “Champions of the Earth” awards in 2004 to recognize environmental achievement in government, science, business and entertainment. Takahashi is the second person to receive the “science and innovation” award, which was first offered last year to natural sciences writer Janine Benyus.