In recent years Professor Maathai played an increasingly important role in global efforts to address climate change, specifically by advocating for the protection of indigenous forests and the inclusion of civil society in policy decisions. In 2005 ten Central African governments appointed her the goodwill ambassador for the Congo Basin rainforest and that same year she accepted the position of presiding officer of the African Union’s Economic, Social, and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC).
In 2006 Professor Maathai joined with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to launch a campaign to plant a billion trees around the world. That goal was met in less than a year; the target now stands at 14 billion. In 2007 Professor Maathai became co-chair (with former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin) of the Congo Basin Forest Fund, an initiative of the British and Norwegian governments, and in 2009 she was designated a United Nations messenger of peace by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In 2010, Professor Maathai became a trustee of the Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust. That same year, in partnership with the University of Nairobi, she established the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies (WMI). The WMI will bring together academic research—e.g. in land use, forestry, agriculture, resource-based conflicts, and peace studies—with the Green Belt Movement approach and members of the organization. Through sharing their experiences, academics and those working at the grassroots will learn from and educate each other about the linkages between livelihoods and ecosystems.
Professor Maathai received a number of honors. Those bestowed on her by governments include: the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan, 2009), the Legion D’Honneur (France, 2006), and Elder of the Golden Heart and Elder of the Burning Spear (Kenya, 2004, 2003). Professor Maathai also received awards from many organizations and institutions throughout the world, including: the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights (2007), the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award (2006), the Sophie Prize (2004), the Goldman Prize (1991), the Right Livelihood Award (1984); and honorary doctorates from Yale University and Morehouse College in the U.S., Ochanomizu University in Japan, and the University of Norway, among others.