Champions of the Earth: Kyrgystan’s environmental entrepreneur


A picture of the Krygyz capital Bishkek, covered in a thick blanket of polluted air, spurred Maria Kolesnikova to start an environmental movement. Her efforts have been rewarded, as she’s now 2021 Champion of the Earth for Entrepreneurial Vision.

Bishkek, home to roughly one million people, is among the world’s cities with the worst air pollution.

During winter months, it is often trapped under a dome of smog derived both from its natural environment – the city’s temperature is, on average, 5°C warmer than its surroundings – and smoke from the coal which is still used to heat most homes. 

Ms. Kolesnikova’s organization, MoveGreen, was the first to monitor the levels of poisonous fine particles in Bishkek’s air. When the first measurements came back, the team at MoveGreen took their message to a population that was ready to listen: Bishkek’s schoolchildren.

Sensors were installed in schools to measure air quality so that classrooms could keep their windows closed when the air pollution was too much. The success of the school-based campaign encouraged Ms. Kolesnikova to convince decision-makers to improve Bishkek’s air quality.

MoveGreen developed an app, now available globally, which displays real-time data about air quality from the two largest Kyrgyz cities, Bishkek and Osh.

Read more about how MoveGreen and Ms. Kolesnikova are helping to improve air quality in Kyrygystan here


Champions of the Earth

  • The United Nations Environment Programme’s Champions of the Earth and the Young Champions of the Earth recognize individuals, groups and organizations whose actions have a transformative impact on the environment. Presented annually, the Champions of the Earth award is the UN’s highest environmental honour. 
  • The United Nations General Assembly has declared the years 2021 through 2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations together with the support of partners, it is designed to prevent, halt, and reverse the loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide.
  • The Decade aims at reviving billions of hectares, covering terrestrial as well as aquatic ecosystems. A global call to action, the UN Decade draws together political support, scientific research, and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration.
  • Visit to learn more.
  • UNEP’s air pollution dashboard provides real-time data on air pollution across the world, its impact on human health and national efforts to tackle this issue.