23 October 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) accompanied by two young painters -- Gabrielle Medovoy of the United States and Andrew Bartolo of Malta -- today announced the opening at the world body’s Headquarters of the exhibition, “Paint for the Planet”, a collection of 26 children’s paintings addressing the issue of climate change.

Noting that half the world’s population is under the age of 25, Mr. Steiner told correspondents during a press conference that it was absolutely necessary for the United Nations to reach out and engage young people.  After all, they would be inheriting the planet in whatever shape the adults left it.  The exhibition thus became a vehicle for these children and teenagers to articulate their visions, their concerns and sometimes their frustrations about how climate change was being dealt with.

Providing some background on the exhibit, he said that the past 17 years the Children’s Painting for the Environment Competition has held a competition around the world.  The 26 paintings in the exhibition were culled from the more than 200,000 paintings collected over the years.  Another 26 paintings were selected to be auctioned off Saturday to benefit the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

As part of its initiative to engage young people in tackling climate change, UNEP commissioned a survey with GlobeScan of five countries around the world -- Brazil, India, Russian Federation, South Africa and United States -- to discover what young people’s views about climate change were and where it ranked in their perception of the challenges they and their families and countries currently faced, he said.

The survey showed that climate change rated quite high among young people, especially in developing nations, but wasn’t always their number one concern.  In fact, the financial economic crisis concerned more than climate change.  Mr. Steiner remarked that this result affirmed the effectiveness of the survey, prompting honest and genuine responses rather than those that the survey might be promoting.  But it brought an important point to the foreground.  Rather than polarize these global crises, transitioning to a green economy would address the current climate change and financial challenges, as well as the food and fuel crises, not in a short-term response but with integrated long-term strategies.

He went on to say that in London, yesterday, UNEP announced the Green Economy Initiative.  Calling that programme a “Global Green New Deal”, he echoed United States President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that viewed crisis as a transformative opportunity.  The most important result from the survey, however, was that it revealed just how much young people around the world followed global issues and how engaged and willing they were to become actively involved in actions, strategies, responses and solutions.

The two teenage painters then spoke of their commitment and dedication to participate in efforts to combat climate change in all its permeations.  Ms. Medovoy expressed her concern about the many animals endangered worldwide and how industrial commerce was impacting their safety.  “We’ve got to all work together as a family to save the animals and nature,” the thirteen-year-old said.

Mr. Bartolo told how in his home, school and Boy Scout troop, recycling, saving energy and being conscious of the impact humans have on the environment had expanded his awareness and helped him do his part in stopping global warming.  “When I found out about this competition I thought I’d enter my painting.  I’m glad that it was chosen and I hope that through my painting and through other actions I might take in the future […] I’ll save the environment so we’ll have a better world to live in than one we are headed towards if we keep on going as we’re doing now.”

“Children’s art competitions are sometimes looked upon in our United Nations world as perhaps a marginal activity”, Mr. Steiner said, “but the power of painting, the power of art and the power of youth becoming involved in these issues I believe is tremendous.”  UNEP had been approached last year by a Chinese philanthropist to finance a children’s painting competition on a mass scale in China.  The pilot project led to almost 200,000 children submitting paintings in China last year.  It had also led to the development of teacher-training workshops to support the initiative.

“We hope that this painting idea, and involving children around the world will inspire other countries around the world to use this medium because it is in fact a powerful way [for] people like Andrew and like Gabby and many others to not just sit and listen but to do something and to feel that they can actually give expression to [their] ideas,” Mr, Steiner concluded.

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