William Laurance, a Distinguished Professor and Australian Laureate at James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, is to received the 2012 Heineken Prize for Environmental Science.
The Heineken Prizes are among the largest and most prestigious awards in the sciences, presented biennially for Medicine, History, Environmental Sciences and Cognitive Sciences. A sixth prize is awarded to a Netherlands-based artist.
Eleven former Heineken winners have gone on to become Nobel Laureates.
The award recognises Professor Laurance’s research on the effects of habitat fragmentation, deforestation, hunting and fire on the Amazon, as well as his work as a science communicator, making an important contribution to public debate on the preservation of the South American rainforest.
“I am of course delighted and greatly honoured by this award,” Professor Laurance said.
“It’s especially gratifying to be recognised for my efforts to communicate about the environment. I believe researchers have a duty to engage the public, governments and policy-makers,” he said.
“The rainforests we are studying are a global treasure – and many, such as those in Indonesia and South America, are falling at an alarming pace.”
The Heineken award recognises Professor Laurance’s painstaking research and the breadth of his work: He studies habitat fragmentation, climate change, soil biology and surface fires, but he has also turned his attention to contagious diseases, government environmental protection policy, the effects of road building, corruption, logging and hunting, nature reserve design, and publication bias in the sciences. His research has taken him to Australia, the Amazon, the Congo, Central America and Southeast Asia .
Professor Laurance has argued that intact tropical forests play a vital role in mitigating the effects of climate change. “The clearing and degradation of tropical rainforests releases huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as well as reducing the capacity of these ecosystems to absorb carbon.
“For that reason, international organisations are now promoting REDD initiatives – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. This uses international carbon-trading funds, from countries like Australia, to help preserve and manage imperilled forests worldwide.
“If applied effectively, REDD could encourage developing nations to leave tropical forests standing rather than fell them,” Professor Laurance said.
The Heineken Prize is awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and is funded by the Alfred Heineken Fondsen Foundation.
The award includes a personal award of $150,000 US, some of which Professor Laurance plans to donate to scientific and nature conservation endeavours.
Professor Laurance will travel to Amsterdam to receive the award in September. With other prize winners he will also undertake a lecture tour of the Netherlands.
Issued March 15, 2012
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