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Policy advocacy and partnerships for children's rights

‘Paint for the Planet’ engages young artists in the fight against climate change

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-0928/Toutounji
UNEP Executive Director Achem Steiner cuts ribbon at opening of the ‘Paint for the Planet’ art exhibition at UN Headquarters, along with artists Daniella Malendez (left), 14, from Colombia; Charlotte Sullivan, 13, from the UK; and Guy Jayce Nindorera, 12, from Burundi.

By Roshni Karwal

NEW YORK, USA, 27 October 2008 – Andrew Bartolo, 15, of San-Gwann, Malta, has a talent for painting. His latest work, which depicts penguins fleeing to unfamiliar territory due to the effects of climate change, earned him a trip to United Nations headquarters.

Andrew is one of six children who were selected as artist-ambassadors and flown to New York to take part in the opening of the ‘Paint for the Planet’ exhibition on 23 October. The children’s art exhibit aims to promote ‘UNite to Combat Climate Change’, a campaign calling for a definitive agreement at international climate-change talks scheduled for December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“Our paintings show that we are willing to make efforts to preserve the natural environment and raise awareness about what is already happening to this earth,” Andrew said at the opening. “As children, there is only so much we can do. At home, we can recycle and turn off lights, but it is up to governments and other organizations to take care of environment on a global scale.”

Art for a cause
The paintings selected for the exhibition bring to light children’s fears about climate change. Together, they represent a powerful plea for action by world leaders.

© UNEP/2008
A painting by Andrew Bartolo, 15, of Malta, selected to be part of the ‘Paint for the Planet’ exhibition on the theme of climate change at UN headquarters in New York.

“Youth are absolutely key to combating climate change, for two reasons, at least,” said the Director of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team, Janos Pasztor, who spoke on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "One of them is, of course, that they will have to live with the impacts of climate change they are producing now.”

Organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Natural World Museum, the exhibition of original artwork was chosen from a pool of nearly 200,000 paintings. The show will eventually travel to various climate-related events and meetings throughout the world, culminating in Copenhagen next year.

On 25 October, a total of 21,000 dollars was raised from the sale of 26 of these paintings auctioned at the Harvard Club in New York City. The money will go to emergency funds for UNICEF to assist children affected by climate-related disasters and emergencies.

“Last year alone, UNICEF responded to some 230 emergencies around the world,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman. “Many of the main global killers of children, including malaria and diarrhoea, are sensitive to changes in temperature and rainfall and could become more common if weather patterns change. Climate change could fall disproportionately on women and children.”

Climate change and children
According to Save the Children UK, approximately 175 million children each year will be affected by climate change-related natural disasters over the next decade.

In addition, the same factors that play a role in climate change, such as emissions from vehicles and factories, significantly harm children's health. Deaths from asthma are expected to increase by nearly 20 per cent by 2016 unless urgent action is taken.

© UNEP/2008
A ‘Paint for the Planet’ selection created by Giselle Lau Ching-Yue, 10, of China.

A UNICEF climate change study found that children are more likely than adults to perish during natural disasters or to succumb to malnutrition, injuries or disease in the aftermath of these emergencies – and almost half of the world's population is now under 25 years of age.

This past summer, for instance, an estimated 300,000 children were among the 650,000 people worst affected by back-to-back hurricanes that struck Haiti.

Climate change can also have a significant impact on a child's ability to attend school. For example, during the July 2007 floods in Sudan, nearly 200 schools were damaged, affecting some 45,000 children.

‘A child’s view of the world’
Young people around the world have expressed the belief that climate change must be addressed. In a survey conducted in 2005 by the UK Government, 24 per cent of 1,000 children aged 10 to 18 said climate change presented the greatest threat to the world's future.

As young Andrew Bartolo put it at the ‘Paint for the Planet’ opening: “A child’s view of the world is essential to open the eyes of those who are in power ... and make them find new ways to repair and protect that which a child treasures so much – his or her home.”




UNICEF correspondent Roshni Karwal attended the launch of 'Paint for the Planet' held at UN headquarters in New York.
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