“Be the change you want to see in the world” says young climate activist from Turkmenistan

A blog to mark Earth Day on young people uniting to help protect the planet in Central Asia

Kristina Orlova
Kristina Orlova
27 March 2020

About the author

Kristina is a twenty-six year old specialist in environmental protection and climate change who lives in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. She graduated from Saint Petersburg State University and Bard College with a major in Liberal Arts and Sciences. In 2018, Kristina joined the UN Initiative “Young SDG Ambassadors” and became one of seventeen young leaders advocating for successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in Turkmenistan and promoting youth participation in policy and decision making. Kristina is an active volunteer, nature lover and experienced public speaker.


In 2018, seventeen young people from Turkmenistan were united with the common goal to advocate for a better society while fostering the progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The initiative, called UN Young SDG Ambassadors, was a perfect opportunity to start promoting issues that I was most concerned about as a young person working on environmental protection.

Turkmenistan is a country most vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change. This is a country where climate change has a direct effect on the overall conditions of people and wildlife. So, for me, it was important to draw attention of the younger generation (elementary and high school students) to the issues of climate change, especially as it is expected to worsen across Central Asia. We started the campaign in 2019 trying to answer a question:

“What can we do as a group of students and young professionals to make our society a better place to live in, while addressing the modern challenges of climate change and globalization?”

Not surprisingly, the answers did not come easily. The SDGs are complex and interconnected, so our efforts had to be the same. The very first public appearance as a Young SDG Ambassador was going to be crucial. With the assistance provided by UNICEF in Turkmenistan, I could present the voice of young people from my homeland to EU politicians at the First European Union – Central Asia Forum in Bishkek in 2019.

Being part of this high-level professional community, aiming to address the big issues of the day, made me realize that I needed to improve my own skills. I decided to focus on educating myself so I could be a stronger advocate. I learned more about biodiversity loss, ecosystem management and climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. I started with online courses that made it possible to combine studying, working and volunteering, and then joined the UNEP/UNESCO/BMZ International Short Course on Ecosystem Management in Dresden.

Learning from peers did not stop at that point. To feature the youth initiatives of Turkmenistan, connect with like-minded young people and explore the experience of honorable contributors, I applied for the scholarship to attend the One Young World Summit in London that brought together more than 2,000 young leaders from around the planet.  How exciting that was! I was moved by inspiring projects and community networks that maximize impact in achievement of SDGs in most of countries. At that moment I had a feeling that I must act now!

Documenting one of the seminars
Documenting one of the seminars organized by Young SDG Ambassadors at the Educational Center “Dalchyn”, Ashgabat, 2020.

With my fellow teammates, we have organized and delivered several seminars and presentations uncovering the dangers of biodiversity loss and climate change effects on agriculture and water resources. We have seen that young people of all age groups are fond of learning about the SDGs and their ways of implementation, while even doing small things that can turn out to be a great change.

Therefore, during our presentations, we made it a point to engage youth from the capital and villages, big cities and remote communities. In our seminars, we organized several interactive role-games and simulation activities so that participants can better understand that with only ten years remaining until 2030, active efforts should be adopted to reach the targets and avoid negative trends in SDGs.

Within a year, we have seen a good progress in terms of raising awareness, collecting public opinion and establishing partnerships with different stakeholders – individual entrepreneurs, local educational centers, and international youth organizations, to name a few.

The journey is not over and more is yet to come! We want to broaden our group and involve more young people from all around the country as we count on every little effort.

As it is evident from the current time of global social and medical crisis, collaboration and communication have become more complex, but success still depends on young and active people. Ways of addressing different global challenges, including climate destabilization, lead to the need to understand our global ties more clearly and look far enough to overcome the negative effects. Greater joint efforts of all are needed to cope with the difficulties of any nature.