Leonardo DiCaprio Urges World Leaders to Prioritize Environmental Issues

Leonardo DiCaprio Clinton Global Citizen Awards - H 2014
Associated Press

Also at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards, Eva Longoria honored the subjects of her upcoming 'Food Chains' documentary, who are dedicated to ending the exploitation of farm workers

Leonardo DiCaprio may not have nabbed any of the four Oscars for which he's been nominated, but his work to protect the environment earned him a prestigious Clinton Global Citizen Award Sunday night.

Serving as the kickoff for the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York, the 8th annual Citizen Awards honored outstanding individuals in civil society, philanthropy, public service and the private sector who exemplify global citizenship through their vision, leadership and impact in addressing global challenges.

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DiCaprio, who has focused his philanthropic efforts on protecting and preserving the planet, urged those in attendance at Sunday night's event to work to address what he called "a real and terrifying crisis."

"Climate change is compromising the very livability of our planet," said the actor, sporting a long, scraggly beard and long hair pulled back into a bun, as he accepted the Clinton Global Citizen Award for philanthropy.

After explaining that "less than three percent of all philanthropic giving goes toward protecting and preserving our environment," a statistic he called "ridiculous," with even less going toward protecting the world's oceans, DiCaprio urged the audience of global leaders and philanthropists "to put environmental issues at the forefront of the human agenda."

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"Together we can find ways to scale up funding and create intelligent partnerships. By protecting our oceans and our wild lands we allow species to recover, local communities to thrive and ultimately maintain a stable climate for all life on Earth," he said.

The actor, who earlier in the day participated in the People's Climate Change march and is set to open the U.N. Climate Summit, added, "the world is now at a turning point, and climate change is the defining issue of our time.… The task before us to protect this planet will require the largest movement in human history. It will have to cross all cultural, religious and political boundaries. But the good news is the solutions are ready, and with leaders like the ones in this room who do not shrink in the face of crisis. They can rise, they can inspire and they can contribute. And that truly is the best hope of planet Earth."

DiCaprio was presented his award by World Wildlife Fund CEO Carter Roberts, who said, "Now more than ever nature needs a voice. Leonardo DiCaprio is that voice."

Roberts praised the actor for using his platform and resources to make a difference and for working to understand the science and situation on the ground, calling the actor an eloquent, inspiring leader.

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In addition to DiCaprio, several other Hollywood stars attended the event, including presenter Eva Longoria, who honored the subjects of her upcoming documentary Food Chains; host Seth Meyers; music director Randy Jackson; performers Aloe Blacc, Jason Mraz and The Roots; Brian Grazer; Sting and Trudie Styler; and Idris Elba.

President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State (and potential future presidential candidate) Hillary Rodham Clinton and a very pregnant Chelsea Clinton were also there.

Indeed, Chelsea's pregnancy and the "impending although hopefully not immediate arrival," as she said, of the elder Clintons' first grandchild was a recurring topic at Sunday's event.

Meyers quickly reassured the crowd that if Chelsea went into labor during Sunday night's event and President Clinton had to leave, "Al Gore is waiting in the wings. Ready to step in for old times' sake."

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He also joked that the Clintons don't care if the baby is a boy or a girl, "as long as it's a swing voter."

But Meyers began his monologue by poking fun at the event's venue, the Sheraton Times Square, calling the neighborhood "a great place to have your picture and your wallet taken" and adding to the out-of-town guests, "If you're not from New York, I'm happy to tell you that the Times Square Sheraton is this city's finest hotel."

But he acknowledged he was in a historic space. "Over the years, this ballroom has been home to so, so many extravagant bar mitzvahs. Oh, the Electric Slides this room has seen," he joked.

Meyers also touched on the NFL scandals, noting that guests at the Sunday night event were missing some games.

"But then again, so are a lot of the players," he added. "Well, at least we're missing them for a good cause, I think that's better."

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And he revealed how hosting the Clinton Global Citizen Awards compared to emceeing the Emmys: "I gotta tell you it's quite a change to be honoring people who actually do good things instead of people who play meth cooks on television."

And it wouldn't be a public event with Hillary Clinton without a joke about her heavily rumored but unconfirmed 2016 presidential run. Meyers introduced the Clintons as "President Clinton … and Bill," which prompted laughs from the couple, blushing from the former Secretary of State and cheers from the audience.

Later in the ceremony, actress-activist Eva Longoria presented one of the leadership in civil society awards to Greg Asbed and Lucas Benitez, co-founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization that works to end the exploitation of farm workers and is the focus of the upcoming documentary Food Chains, set to be released on Nov. 21.

Other winners included Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga, who was honored by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for leadership in public service; i2 Institute CEO Hayat Sindi, who was honored by former NFL cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for leadership in civil society; and Qualcomm co-founder Dr. Irwin Jacobs, who was honored by California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom for leadership in the private sector.

Indeed, Meyers joked that this was the only time DiCaprio and Jacobs would take home the same prize.

"Never again in the history of awards shows will Leo and Dr. Jacobs win the same award," he said.